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LGBT Activists Take Aim At Wall Street’s ‘Russia Day’

by Scott Wooledge on November 14, 2013

in News,Politics

Video from 2012 “Russia Day” celebration with addition of imagery
of what has happened in Russia in the year since. 

On Monday, November 18, Wall Street will be celebrating “Russia Day,” described by the New York Stock Exchange as an opportunity for “executives to engage in strategic discussions with business peers, asset allocators and investors, and Russian government officials about the opportunities in doing business and investing in Russia today.” The day will culminate with Sergey Belyakov, Deputy Minister for Economic Development of the Russian Federation, ringing the closing bell.

Yes, an official of a country whose president is waging a war on the LGBT community will be ringing the closing bell of the iconic New York Stock Exchange.

Now, activists from New York City to São Paulo, Brazil are using this event as a platform to put the Russian government in the hot seat about Russia’s record on LGBT and human rights.

Already, they have secured three major wins: two sponsors and the keynote speaker have fled from being associated with this event.

After taking fire from LGBT activists, the President of the American Bar Association, James Silkenat, canceled his scheduled keynote address at the Russia Forum NY investors’ conference. Earlier, the Mayor’s Office of New York City also disavowed any ties to the Russia investment conference, after questioned about Russia Center New York’s claim that Mayor Bloomberg was a sponsor of the event.

The petitioner who targeted Silkenat with the petition, Bert Leatherman, a New Yorker and a graduate of New York University Law School now living in Brazil, has moved on. He is now petitioning the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, Duncan Niederauer, to cancel the bell-ringing and other festivities celebrating Russia. Leatherman writes:

The New York Stock Exchange and Goodwin Procter are lending their credibility to the effort to entice American investors into investing in the Russian economy. On November 18, 2013, the NYSE will host Russia Day, when leading Russian government officials — some of them the very architects of Russia’s homophobic law banning any gay-positive speech and tacitly encouraging violence against LGBT Russians — will ring the closing bell at the stock exchange, to sickening applause from NYSE traders.

The other target in his sights was Goodwin Procter LLC, a prestigious law firm whose New York City offices were to be host to Russia Forum NY and the gathered Russian government officials. Goodwin Procter boasts of their LGBT inclusivity on their website, and filed an amicus brief in support of the challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act. In whole, their record bears out the firm’s claim Goodwin Procter, LCC is a friend to the LGBT community.

 photo Goodwin-Procter-Logo_zps47c76a75.jpgAnd in fact, Goodwin Procter behaved as a friend. Reached for comment on Tuesday, Lee Feldman, Director of Communications for Goodwin Procter, LLC said, “We’ve informed [Russia Forum NY] that we will not be hosting or supporting the conference.” American Lawyer confirms, a Goodwin Procter spokesperson telling them:

“Recently, several troubling issues, including the Russian government’s anti-gay policies, were brought to our attention, and . . . Mr. Silkenat withdrew as keynote speaker for the event over this past weekend. These issues were discussed at length by Goodwin’s leaders, members of our Russian practice and the leaders of Goodwin’s longstanding partner-led GLBT Committee. Based on these concerns and Mr. Silkenat’s withdrawal, we reached a decision [Monday] night that we could not provide space or support for the event and communicated that to The Russian Center.”

This leaves the seminar homeless mere days before the convening. Queer Nation NY had already announced their intention to protest outside the offices of Goodwin Procter, Monday Nov. 18, concurrent with Russia Day on Wall Street. The location may change but Queer Nation says that protest action will go on, if event’s location can be ascertained. And there will also be an afternoon protest at the New York Stock Exchange, convening at Federal Hall steps at 3:15 pm to greet the 4:00 pm bell-ringing.

This action comes at a very bad time for Russia government, as they are working hard to counteract the effects of capital flight from the country. A recent study by one global financial analyst group estimates that, mostly due to crime and corruption, as much as US$782.5 billion left the country between 1994 and 2011. The figure is described as “massive” and raised “serious questions about the economic and political stability of the nation currently chairing the G20.”

 photo GS_zps59d42613.jpgSergey Belyakov, Deputy Minister of Economic Development is scheduled to ring the closing bell on trading Monday. According to the Moscow Times, in January 2013, Belyakov hired Goldman Sachs “to polish the image of the country’s investment potential abroad and lure foreign cash.” Polishing the image will mean convincing investors  to look past the the bottomless well of graft and corruption that Russia has long been and is still infamous for. And increasingly,  the unseemly spectacle of the country’s brutality to its LGBT citizens is also eclipsing all other news of the country.

In October, Queer Nation NY protested a similar investment seminar also organized by this same group and attended by at least four officials from the Moscow City government. During the course of the protester’s confrontation, attendees at Russia Forum NY shouted truly shockingly homophobic things at the protesters, including this gem straight out of the Russian demagoguery handbook:

“Gay culture should not be promoted because it will destroy the population of the educated classes.”

Goldman Sachs has arranged to send Russian government officials on a worldwide Russian Investment Roadshow. They are courting foreign money men (and women) and attempting to lure foreign capital into the struggling Russian economy. “Russia Day” is another stump stop on the investment roadshow.

For activists nationwide who are not able to make it to New York City on Monday, the CareXO Foundation is sponsoring a Thunderclap social media action for Sunday at noon. The Thunderclap service allows people to pre-schedule Tweets and Facebook posts and the service will then release them at synchronized time, allowing a group to flood social media with their message. In this case CareXO is sending this out:

Gilbert Baker, original designer of the rainbow flag, has designed a 90-foot rainbow banner that Queer Nation NY will unfurl at the New York Stock Exchange while Russian government officials ring the closing bell.

The Russian government has been particular belligerent when confronted on their abuse of human rights, for LGBT people, as well as on the topic of persecution of Greenpeace activists and the imprisonment of political dissidents Pussy Riot. They brush off critiques saying these are internal matters and Russia has no interest in being influenced by “western values.” The Russian government might find such belligerence is ill-suited for the task of coming to America—hat in hand—asking for value of western investment money to bailout  their ailing economy. As with South Africa, Americans of conscience will say, “Nyet.”

Scott Wooledge is a New York City based writer, activist, creative media professional, and political consultant.

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