The CEO of Citigroup has defended his bank’s decision to sponsor an event hosting openly homophobic Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.
Michael Corbat reaffirmed the Wall Street investment bank’s ‘unwavering’ support for the LGBTI community.
However, the CEO said that Citi would go ahead with sponsoring the Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce’s 2019 Person of the Year Award Gala Dinner which will which honor Bolsonaro.
Bolsonaro has a history of anti-LGBTI comments and has described himself as a ‘proud homophobe’. Last month, the president said that Brazil cannot become a ‘gay tourism paradise’.
A number of companies have already pulled their sponsorship from the event due to the president’s past remarks. This includes management consultancy firm, Bain & Co, Delta Air Lines and the Financial Times newspaper.
However, a number of other banks and corporate sponsors remain attached. This includes JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, UnitedHealth Group and Forbes Brazil.
The American Museum of Natural History also pulled out from hosting the event, which was then moved to the Marriott International’s New York City hotel the Marriott Marquis. Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson has been a prominent supporter of the LGBTI community in the past.
‘Citi is making their values clear–but maybe not in the way they intended’
While appearing on CNBC’s Squawk on the Street, anchor Carl Quintanilla asked Corbat how he ‘balances’ such things as sponsoring the event honoring the openly homophobic president, while claiming to support LGBTI rights.
‘You know you’re going to get blowback,’ Quintanilla added.
‘Most importantly, we spend a lot of time making sure our people understand the values of our company,’ Corbat responded.
‘And I hope in the case of that there’s no question of our support – our unwavering support – for the LGBT community.
CNBC EXCLUSIVE: @Citi CEO responds to sponsoring an event honoring Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro who has been vocal in his opposition to LGBT rights. Michael Corbat says: “We spend a lot of time making sure our people understand the values of our company” Watch: pic.twitter.com/lOSyekp4Lt
— Ryan Ruggiero (@RyanRuggiero) May 2, 2019
‘In there, we’re supporting the Brazilian Chamber of Commerce. We’ve operated in Brazil for many, many decades, and I think we’re very clear in terms of our stance,’ Corbat concluded.
However, many people found Corbat’s answer unsatisfactory.
New York Senator Brad Hoylman hit out at the bank’s sponsorship for the event.
Posting on Twitter with a link to Corber’s interview, Hoylman wrote: ‘By sponsoring an event honoring a homophobe as Man of the Year, @Citi is making their values clear–but maybe not in the way they intended.
‘Normalizing an anti-LGBTQ president who wants to actively harm – and even kill – LGBTQ people does not reflect New York values. Period.’
By sponsoring an event honoring a homophobe as Man of the Year, @Citi is making their values clear–but maybe not in the way they intended.
Normalizing an anti-LGBTQ president who wants to actively harm – and even kill – LGBTQ people does not reflect New York values. Period. https://t.co/12HTY9bS3C
— Senator Brad Hoylman (@bradhoylman) May 2, 2019
Openly homophobic president
Bolsonaro’s comments lashing out at the LGBTI community – as well as minorities and human rights supporters – are well-documented.
In the past, Bolsonaro infamously said ‘Yes, I’m homophobic – and very proud of it’. He has also suggested that if parents see their son ‘acting a little bit gay’ they should beat him ‘to make him normal’, and that if he saw a gay couple on the street he would ‘whack them’.
During his presidential campaign, LGBTI rights activists expressed extreme concerns that Bolsonaro’s presidency would usher in a new wave of terror for Brazil’s LGBTI community.
The former army captain has expressed admiration for Brazil’s military junta, which ran from 1964 to 1985. During their 21-year rule, the junta detained, tortured and executed thousands of people.
However, recent instances of Bolsonaro’s homophobic outbursts have been widely ridiculed.
In March, the far-right president tweeted a video of one man urinating on another at the annual Brazillian festival, Carnival.
The president wrote that he posted the video to show ‘the truth’ of how the iconic event had become morally corrupt. He later asked ‘What is a golden shower?’ in a separate tweet. Both tweets have since been deleted.
Pro-LGBTI businesses under scrutiny
LGBTI rights group the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index has given Citi a perfect score for 15 consecutive years.
Citi’s defense of their sponsorship comes at a time when businesses are under increasing pressure to reassess their dealings with openly anti-LGBTI governments.
There have been questions as to whether the financial interests trump support for LGBTI rights.
This became particularly apparent following Brunei’s implementation of the controversial Sharia Penal Code (SPC). Under Brunei’s SPC, those found guilty of male homosexual sex and adultery can be punished by stoning to death.
In response, investment bank JP Morgan advised their staff to boycott any Brunei-owned hotels. Oil company
Royal Dutch Shell has also come under scrutiny. While the energy firm has been strong supporters for LGBTI rights, they also have significant business interests in oil-rich Brunei.
Shell’s shareholders have raised concerns about how the SPC laws would affect their LGBTI employees.