RI: Goldman Sachs, the HRC and Class Politics Within the Community

By: Casey Rocheteau/TRT Reporter–
Recently, activists from the Occupy L.A. Queer Affinity Group and GetEqual in Los Angeles, protested a Human Rights Campaign, HRC, gala event because of the HRC’s ties to Goldman Sachs and CEO Lloyd Blankfein. According to most reports on the protest, the main issue was Blankfein being dubbed the first corporate sponsor of the HRC’s marriage-equality campaign.

The Rainbow Times spoke with Michael Cole-Schwartz, communications director of the HRC, as well as a number of Rhode Islanders who were involved in the Occupy movement to investigate local views of such a fissure in LGBTQ organizing.

Cole-Schwartz was very clear in stating that Blankfein “is not an official spokesperson by any means. He did a video for the video campaign for marriage equality.” Blankfein was one of many prominent individuals to make such a video. Actors such as Michael K. Williams, Aisha Tyler and John Leguizamo also lent their support to the project, as did politicians such as Al Franken and public figures like Rev. Al Sharpton. Blankfein’s video was the only one to raise such ire, and the video’s release was also coupled with Goldman Sachs being presented with a corporate equality award. The groups who protested the event wore hazmat suits to represent Goldman’s hazardous financial practices.

Providence activist Brian Gay put the issue into perspective, saying, “I think that by having a corporate sponsor representing LGBT folks and their interests, the HRC is supporting a system (capitalism) which reinforces and profits from oppression. I think that choosing to work with the corporate model is supporting a system that in the end does not help society’s most poor and oppressed, and that is unfortunate since HRC aims to represent a part of that oppressed population.”

Cole-Schwartz, when asked what his response was to anyone upset about Blankfein’s connections with the HRC, said that “the activists and other folks who are upset about the issue may be on the same page as the HRC and just not know it.” He went on to say that the HRC “wants full equality for all LGBT people. Having [Blankfein] speak out is something that will get people to think about the issue in a in a different way. This is something that crosses all boundaries — race, class, faith.”

Another activist with the Rhode Island Anti-Sexism League, Chris Gagnon, explained it this way: “To me, asking for an endorsement from a CEO of one of the very financial institutions whose business practices perpetuates, even if unknowingly or unintentionally, some of the practices and beliefs the HRC is trying to fight seems rather backwards.”

Of course, even within the activist community, the issue is not at all one-sided.

“I think it is good to have someone from Corporate America be part of our representation,” said Kevin Fletcher, a senior technologist at a company in Providence. He added that he knows people “in Corporate America who have to be closeted. It is nice to have a corporation show public support.”

Fletcher’s sentiment was reflected in the HRC’s goal for the campaign. While many corporations have made progress in LGBT equality, Goldman Sachs has had policies in place for years that make it exemplary in its field. In 2002, the company’s insurance policy was designed to cover gender-reassignment surgery, and under Blankfein’s leadership the company also now reimburses employees in domestic partnerships to offset their taxes. Of the many faces in the HRC marriage-equality videos, Blankfein was the only member of a financial organization to publicly support the campaign.

The current issue with Goldman Sachs is not particularly new, as there have been some activists who have objected to the organization’s financial business practices for years. Len Moorehead, a local activist who works in education, commented that “class divisions in the USA are very strong and working-class people of any denomination are downtrodden, exploited, overworked and underpaid for very little respect. The HRC is a classic case of gay people acting more straight than straight people to show ‘we’re just like you,’ to preserve a niche in the higher-paying ranks of society.”

When asked if he thought the HRC supported working-class LGBTQ people, the group of six respondents were divided. A few saw the HRC as representing all people, while others, such as activist Josh Kilby, said, “Even [the HRC’s] ‘best places to work’ campaign have an over-focus on the white-collar world. If they really cared about improving workplace homophobia, they would be helping in the effort to organize LGBT caucuses in unions like Pride at Work.”

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of people’s responses was that no one’s reaction was entirely negative. Even Kilby’s response was hopeful. He was asked if he thought corporate endorsements were helpful in the struggle for full equality. “No,” he responded, “but I think it shows that the 1 percent is not united on queer oppression anymore, which is a good thing.”

To view the marriage equality video campaign, visit: http://bit.ly/qmn2uN.

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1 Comment on "RI: Goldman Sachs, the HRC and Class Politics Within the Community"

  1. Dan Fotou | April 5, 2012 at 7:04 pm |

    As one of the organizers of the HRC fundraising protest here in Los Angeles, I must make one clarification. The hazmat suits weren’t used to represent Goldman Sachs’ hazardous practices. They were used to represent that HRC is hazardous to equality. I’ve included the full press release below to provide better context for the protest, which reinforces some of the positions people in this article made.

    – Goldman Sachs Does NOT Equal Equality –

    LOS ANGELES – The Occupy Los Angeles Queer Affinity Group — a group of activists within OLA, OUT and Occupy — a grass roots community group in solidarity with the Occupy Movement, and GetEQUAL Los Angeles– a local chapter of the national LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and
    queer) civil rights organization — will protest the HRC’s Los Angeles fundraising gala in response to their selection of Goldman Sachs CEO, Lloyd Blankfein, as a national corporate spokesperson for marriage equality and for honoring Sachs with the HRC Corporate Equality award. Additionally, the protest will focus on HRC’s role in the equality business that, for the past 32 years, has focused on piecemeal legislation and splintered the community. Activists will wear hazmat suits to reflect HRC’s hazardous
    practices and to demand that HRC dump Goldman Sachs and utilize its Washington influence to fight for full federal equality.

    – WHAT: Occupy LA Queer Affinity Group, OUT and Occupy and GetEQUAL Protest HRC Fundraiser

    – WHERE: Ritz Carlton / JW Marriott at LA Live, 900 West Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90015

    – WHEN: Saturday, March 17, 2012

    – TIME: 5:00pm – 7:00pm

    – VISUAL: Activists will be wearing hazmat suits to demonstrate that HRC is hazardous to equality

    A few facts about Mr. Blankfein and Goldman Sachs:

    · Mr. Blankfein admitted to stealing money from Goldman Sachs customers [1]
    · Workers in many states are suing Goldman Sachs for stealing their pensions [2]
    · A U.S. Senate subcommittee has recommended perjury charges against Mr. Blankfein [3]
    · The same subcommittee laid “much of the blame” for the financial crisis on Goldman Sachs and
    other firms that sold securities [4]
    · In 2007, some say the worst year of the financial crisis, Mr. Blankfein pocketed $53 million in
    compensation [5]

    HRC’s mission states, “By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.” However, in practice, HRC fails to realize that LGBTQ equality is not separate from social justice or from economic justice, but is indeed directly tied to both. By selecting Blankfein and awarding Goldman Sachs,
    HRC has once again championed the privilege of the 1% – making it permissive to steal from the poor to prop up the rich while dismissing the demand for full federal equality and equal protections.

    GetEQUAL Los Angeles activist, Maja Roble, explains, “I was a supporter of HRC. My partner and I wear matching HRC engagement rings, but now we’re forced to replace them with a symbol that reflects our love and calls for real social justice and equality. It is very disappointing to watch HRC once again choose money over integrity. What does HRC really have in common with Goldman Sachs, and how can this relationship possibly promote equal rights for all? We’re hopeful that HRC will change course and choose to represent the entire community and not just the interests of the 1%.”

    With the majority of the LGBTQ community still living in states, cities and towns where discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is the norm, and alarmingly high levels of unemployment, poverty and harassment exist, HRC has demonstrated its lack of political will and skill at the federal level
    for achieving a safe environment for its constituency.[6] Today, the LGBTQ community still lacks federal protections from discrimination, including: employment, housing, domestic and bi-national relationships, safe schools, public accommodations and facilities, federally funded programs and credit. [7]

    Occupy LA activist, Carolina Lynn states, “As a Transgender activist, I am deeply offended at HRC’s selection of Goldman Sachs for any award, let alone one that honors our fight for equality. This award
    clearly illustrates HRC’s mission to fund raise at all costs, and its tone deafness to the economic plight of many in our community, especially those of us doubly marginalized by being both LGBTQ and poor,
    immigrants, people of color, transgender or gender non-conforming. It’s time for HRC to stop honoring the 1% and re-calibrate its actions to fight for full social and economic justice for the 99% – only then can it truly claim the name of ‘Human Rights Campaign.’”

    HRC’s decision to award Lloyd Blankfein ignores his record and self-admitted crimes against humanity. Occupy LA Queer Affinity Group, OUT and Occupy, and GetEQUAL Los Angeles demand that HRC dump Goldman Sachs, use its political prowess for full federal equality and to represent the 99% who suffer at the hands of discrimination, bigotry, abuse and intolerance. We urge HRC’s soon-to-be president,Chad Griffin, to boldly advocate for full federal equality on behalf of the entire community and stop these hazardous practices.

    [1] http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-people-vs-goldman-sachs-20110511

    [2] http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-people-vs-goldman-sachs-20110511

    [3] http://www.newser.com/story/116389/senate-probe-goldman-sachs-screwed-clients-lied-to-us.html

    [4] http://www.newser.com/story/116389/senate-probe-goldman-sachs-screwed-clients-lied-to-us.html

    [5] http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/blogs/taibblog/blankfein-the-wrong-spokesman-for-gay-rights-20120214

    [6] http://www.hrc.org/files/assets/resources/ENDA_Polling_Memo_Dec_2011.pdf

    [7] http://www.actonprinciples.org/thepledge/

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