New York Promoters of Russian Investment on the Run

On November 18, Queer Nation and others protested a Russian investment forum held at the Kosciuszko Foundation offices. | QUEER NATION

On November 18, Queer Nation and others protested a Russian investment forum held at the Kosciuszko Foundation offices. | QUEER NATION

In the face of protests on November 18 by Queer Nation and others opposed to investment in Russia due to that nation’s new anti-gay laws, the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) scaled back its annual marking of Russia Day. A separately planned morning conference on investing in Russia had to move, was shortened by half, and lost most of its participants.

“It’s all about putting pressure on Russia,” said gay activist Bill Dobbs, who has been working with Queer Nation on the campaign. “We are raising the ethical issue of investing in a country that has a terrible human rights record, including crackdowns on and scapegoating of dissidents, democracy activists, and LGBT people.”

A morning demonstration was held outside 15 East 65th Street, where the Kosciuszko Foundation provided space for the Russian Center of New York’s Russia Forum investment gathering. Criticism of the event by activists had earlier led the law firm of Goodwin Procter to withdrew space it had offered in its offices in the New York Times building. Goodwin Proctor’s action came several days after the forum’s scheduled keynote speaker, American Bar Association president James Silkenat, an attorney at Sullivan & Worcester, pulled out of the event.

Queer Nation, other protesters derail big money conference, lead Stock Exchange to cut back on another one

About 15 protestors with big banners showed up outside the Kosciuszko Foundation offices, and when conference organizers called the police to remove them, two squad cars pulled up but no action was taken against the peaceful, legal gathering.

The Kosciuszko Foundation issued a statement to Queer Nation at the action that read, “We understand and respect your opinion. The rental of our gallery is by no means an endorsement of intolerance toward any group.”

A downtown protest aimed at the NYSE began at 3 p.m. “directly across from the beating heart of Wall Street,” Dobbs said, attracting roughly three-dozen demonstrators carrying three big banners made by Gilbert Baker, creator of the Rainbow Flag, including ones that read, “Human Rights Yes, Russian Thugs Nyet” and “Don’t Buy Putin’s Lies.” The protesters chanted, “Russia Day? We say, Nyet! Kiss our assets!”

While the NYSE did not cancel Russia Day and a conference on investing in that nation was held inside, “there was no Russian flag outside the stock exchange” as is traditional on this occasion, Northrop said, and the New York Stock Exchange called off the ringing of the closing bell by Sergey Belyakov, Russia’s deputy minister of economic development. In an email message, an exchange spokesperson wrote, “After discussing with the conference organizers, our clients, employees, and other stakeholders, the decision was taken to forego the closing bell.”

Queer Nation outside the New York Stock Exchange on November 18. | QUEE NATION

Queer Nation outside the New York Stock Exchange on November 18. | QUEE NATION

Northrop said Queer Nation will be stepping up its protests of individuals and corporations sponsoring the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia set for February. And the group has plans to protest Elton John’s December 3 concert at Madison Square Garden over his tour dates in Russia December 6 and 7.

Gay activist Bert Leatherman, an NYU Law grad now living in Brazil, had been relentless in an online campaign over the last several weeks to get Silkenat, Goodwin Proctor, and the NYSE to dissociate themselves from the Russian Center and its promotion of investment in Russia. In a petition to the NYSE CEO Duncan Niederauer urging cancellation of Russia Day that Leatherman said garnered 8,500 signatures. he wrote, “Under the cloying guise of ‘dialogue’ and ‘engagement,’ you are actively promoting investment that goes to support a government that is fixated on completely destroying the humanity of the gay people subject to its abusive rule. Shutting down Russia Day is the only action that would register on the radar of a cold, calculating regime like Putin’s that is driven by money and power.”

Meanwhile, the oppression of LGBT people in Russia continues apace. On November 16, anti-gay thugs, denied entry into the Moscow gay club Central Station, harassed patrons and then fired several shots, damaging the club’s door though not hitting anyone. After the gunfire, they fled.

In St. Petersburg, the LGBT Side by Side film festival — which was scheduled to include a showing of “Milk” about slain San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk, with director Gus Van Sant and screenwriter Dustin Lance Black in attendance — had its opening night canceled due to a bomb threat.

Fearful of running afoul of Russia’s law against gay “propaganda,” the Sweden-based international retailer IKEA pulled a story featuring a lesbian couple from the Russian edition of its IKEA Family Live customer magazine.

“It is important for us to be neutral between religion and politics,” a company spokesperson said.

IKEA has been using same-sex couples in its US ads since 1994. The Swedish Federation for LGBT Rights criticized IKEA, saying its preemptive censoring of its marketing magazine prevented a good test case of Russia’s anti-gay law.

This week a Russian court fined Lady Gaga’s Russian promoters 20,000 rubles ($609) for “promoting homosexuality” in her 2012 concert in St. Petersburg, a city that adopted the anti-gay law prior to the federal government doing so. A mother of a 13-year-old who attended the concert said “she saw performers simulating lesbian sex acts and watched Gaga announce her support for Russia’s LGBT community,” in addition to promoting alcohol use, the UK Guardian reported.