A Compelling Call for San Franciso Employee Retirement to Divest from Anti-Gay Russia

Gary Virginia, of Gays Without Borders and President of the Board of San Francisco Pride provided this compelling speech in San Francisco

Posted by Melanie Nathan, April 10, 2014.

Screen Shot 2014-04-10 at 2.18.09 PMGary Virginia of Gays without Borders and President of San Francisco Pride provided this public comment today regarding Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Supervisor’s efforts to get the SF Employees’ Retirement System to divest from Russian investments.
The comments were made at the Board of Supervisors Government Audit & Oversight Committee today in San Francisco City Hall, at a hearing  to discuss the feasibility, consistent with SFERS’s fiduciary obligations to retirees, of SFERS divesting from Russian securities, given Russia’s continuing persecution of members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender community; and SFERS’s policy regarding responses to inquiries from members of the Board of Supervisors about policy matters of interest to residents of San Francisco.
Good Morning Supervisors. I’m Gary Virginia, a longtime LGBT and human rights activist, member of Gays Without Borders, and current President of the Board of the SF Pride Parade & Celebration Committee.
I’m here today to urge your support of any efforts to educate the public on the dangerous situation for LGBT Russians and their allies in light of President Putin’s new anti-gay laws, and to ask the city’s retirement fund to consider pulling the approximate $26 million it has invested in Russia securities. Those investments make up approximately .15 percent of the San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System’s assets. The retirement board is the only city agency that conducts business with Russia.The city and state should not be investing in Russia, for moral and economic reasons. It is not a place where there is rule of law. We should not be putting money at risk or supporting in any way their government, which is cracking down on LGBT Russians, ethnic minorities, political dissidents, and others. With Putin consolidating political and economic power, those assets are at risk.

For the record, on June 30, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a new law that threatens to arrest, detain and imprison individuals or groups that publicly support LGBT equality or spread positive “propaganda” about “non-traditional lifestyles.” Punishable offenses could include public acknowledgment of one’s sexual orientation, displays of affection between same-sex partners, statements in support of LGBT rights and the use of symbols, such as rainbows, that are connected to the LGBT community. Russia also enacted a law that prohibits same-sex couples from adopting children.

On Sept. 30 last year, our full Senate approved a resolution urging CalPERS and CalSTRS not to invest future resources from their pension plans in Russia. SR 18, authored by Senator Mark Leno, passed with a 29-1 bipartisan vote. The resolution was co-sponsored by Equality California (EQCA) and the National Center for Lesbian Rights and co-authored by 16 Senators. Sen. Mark Leno, made a similar request at the state level, stating “We hope this resolution will bring greater attention to what (Russian President Vladimir) Putin is doing in Russia and encourage other states to follow our lead. This is classic scapegoating, a despotic ruler trying to solidify his power,” Leno said. “We’ve seen this throughout history, and it can potentially lead to genocide.”

“Color Our World With Pride“ is the theme of the SF Pride Parade & Celebration which is just 82 days away. Our event will be focusing on Global Issues. LGBT people in Uganda, Russia, Nigeria, Cameroon, Latvia and many other countries are seeing a fast rise in state-sponsored criminalization, largely due to American evangelist and obsessive homophobe Scott Lively, who has traveled to these countries to encourage governments to sanction gays. With close to 7,000 votes cast in SF Pride’s voting for grand marshals and honorees, Scott Lively won the symbolic Pink Brick Award for causing the most harm to our LGBT community.

These laws in Russia, as previously cited, are resulting in a mob mentality whereby gay Russians and others are being lured into traps, tortured, videotaped and sometimes killed. This is no laughing or insignificant matter.

There is widespread support among gay and straight allied San Franciscans who believe in equality, who would support divestment in Russia, if not just for the financial stability of the employees’ retirement system, than for joining us in solidarity for equality.

The rather small request we are making of the San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System is a step in the right direction to educate the public, and join our state, national and global community to protect the human rights of all people. Thank you supervisors for your support.

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