When the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay group and one that has done considerable good work, arrives in New York from D.C. to consort with a predatory company like Goldman Sachs, it creates an alchemy that suggests that the organization has seriously lost its way at a unique time in our country and the LGBT movement's history.
I'm talking about HRC's decision to honor Goldman Sachs with its 2011 Workplace Equality Innovation Award at the group's annual New York dinner this past Saturday, which inspired a protest by Occupy Wall Street' Queer Caucus.
In 2012, honoring a New York company for being good to its gay employees is like congratulating it for a passing second grade, since New York City has strong anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBT people, and most of New York's banking industry has policies protecting LGBT employees. Let's be clear: HRC honored Goldman for money and prestige on Wall Street.
HRC's willingness to whitewash the pasts of individuals and organizations in return for cold cash is nothing new. In some ways I don't fault the group's willingness to look these execs in the eye, take their money, and use it to promote LGBT equality. But this strategy has its limits. In honoring Goldman Sachs, HRC is incredibly tone-deaf to the enormous outrage nearly all Americans feel toward the banks and securities firms at the center of the economic meltdown.
What's most troubling is the message HRC sends to the millions of young people, kids as young as 9 or 10 years old up to recent college graduates, who are living proof that our dreams of equality can and will be realized. Every out gay person over the age of 30 has been fighting for the basic protections we desire for ourselves and future generations against being fired from jobs, thrown out of our homes, or being beaten simply because we are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. The result is that we helped create a progressive cultural environment where, increasingly, LGBT young people are openly expressing their true sexual identities as soon as their hearts and bodies reveal it.
But at the moment that this amazing generation is coming of age, it is forced to find its way in the midst of an economic crisis that will likely linger for a decade or more. Bankrupt state and local governments are raising tuition costs and laying off teachers. The federal government is forced to stop investing in higher education, green technologies, and university research and development. Companies are hunkered down and generating few new jobs. And at the center of the financial disasters that led to the global recession was Goldman Sachs and the financial ethos it represents and practices. Goldman Sachs promoted the U.S. mortgage bubble and then bet that this huge segment of the U.S. economy would fail, leaving hundreds of thousands of Americans unemployed.
Before anyone had even heard of the European debt crisis, Goldman advised the Greek government on how to cheat its way into the Eurozone, setting up a crisis that threatens to further depress the global economy. Goldman acted as a bookie for insurance giant AIG's mortgage-based gambling operation and then pocketed $13 billion of AIG's $182 billion government bailout.
Goldman Sachs' ethos delivers profit whether society fails or succeeds. Goldman couldn't care less where the money comes from. But it does take great care to assume zero responsibility for the wreckage it creates. One practice in particular captures the extraordinary personal greed Goldman is built upon. Every year the firm divides up its profits, transferring them out of the company into the hands of individuals in the form of grotesque executive bonuses and dividends for their ultra-rich shareholders and clients -- including Mitt Romney. Goldman Sachs' executives effectively disinvest the profits of their own company so that they can pocket the cash. Very few companies in America operate this way.
I'm not suggesting it is HRC's job to police the American economy, nor do I think an organization that represents the spectrum of LGBT opinion should become a mouthpiece for critiques of our economic system, but I do believe HRC should embrace fundamental progressive values, especially those that so directly impact a generation we encouraged to live by those values. In honoring Goldman Sachs, HRC is aligning itself with a company that has nearly bankrupted an entire future generation and would do it again. This past Saturday HRC sent the message of "do as I say, not as I do," and that is very sad.