A homophobic firestorm has ignited in Russia after a major supermarket chain, VkusVill released, and then shortly thereafter pulled an ad featuring a lesbian couple. The ad, part of a campaign entitled “Recipes for Family Happiness,” shows VkusVill customers talking about their favourite products from the store.
The ad highlighted the same-sex family’s adherence to a vegan lifestyle, fair-trade practices and their commitment to protecting LGBTQ+ youth.
The ad was initially posted to the company’s official website as well as other social media channels. The chain quickly pulled the ad after an intense backlash and replaced the lesbian family with another heterosexual family.
The family at the centre of the storm, Yuma and her daughters Mila and Alina, along with Alina’s fiancee Ksyusha, have reportedly faced ongoing harassment and threats. Mila told the BBC that her family had been subjected to homophobic abuse and “threats to murder my family”. She added that they had also received just as many messages of support.
Ad had 18+ Label
Russia’s fastest-growing grocery chain, VkusVill has over 1400 stores in over 46 cities, 14,000 employees and revenue of $1.7 billion. The chain, which focuses on fresh, healthy and affordable food, also has two stores in Amsterdam, and has plans for further international expansion.
Yuma, told Russia Beyond, “I was very pleasantly surprised to have received an invitation to participate in the ad. We really like VkusVill and think we have a strong and loving family. It was important for us to show that happiness can exist regardless of homophobia and be just as happy as any other family.”
VkusVill said in the copy accompanying the ad, “Not featuring the families of our real customers would be hypocritical. We advise you to weigh up all the pros and cons, before reading this article…Family is blood ties or a stamp in a passport. Let’s rethink this. In the 21st century, it’s primarily people who love us, those who will always shield us, people with whom we go through life together.”
The advertisement was released with an 18+ warning label in an effort to fall in line with the “gay propaganda law,” which was signed into law by President Vladimir Putin in June 2013. The controversial law bans the “promotion of nontraditional sexual relations to minors.” Violators of the law can face heavy fines with organisations and businesses subject to fines of one million rubles and forced closures for up to 90 days.
Company Apologises, Pulls Ad
The company released an apology on its official Facebook page, signed by the founder of VkusVill, Andrey Krivenko and many of his management team. The post said, “There was an article here that hurt the feelings of many of our customers, staff, partners and suppliers. We regret that this has happened and consider the publication to be our mistake, arising from a lack of professionalism on the part of the brand’s employees. The aim of our company is to help our customers have access to fresh and delicious produce and not to publish materials expressing political opinions or various points of view held by society. In no way did we wish to become a source of discord or hatred.”
Reaction was swift across all of VkusVill’s social media channels. Over 35,000 comments were generated on Instagram, with many divided over the ad. One user @russiaforgays said it was “cowardly” for the company to take the ad down.
Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of Kremlin-sponsored media outlet RT said, “The audience of traditionalists like myself has been lost, and now the very audience they have been flirting with has been disappointed.”
TV presenter & former Presidential candidate Kseniya Sobchak, meanwhile, posted on Instagram “Will people really boycott curd snacks and cherries because of lesbians? Of course not, but now both sides will hate the retailer.”