Big Bank Gala Sponsors Stay On Amid Calls for #CancelBolsonaro

(Bloomberg) -- Delta Air Lines Inc., the Financial Times and Bain & Co. have pulled their sponsorship of a New York City gala dinner honoring Jair Bolsonaro, the polarizing president of Brazil. And now a New York state senator is calling for its cancellation altogether.

Many other sponsors, including big banks, are staying on with an annual event that has been held by the Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce since 1970. UBS Group AG has attended the dinner for over 12 years with “the sole aim of promoting commerce” between the two countries, the bank said Thursday by email.

Past honorees have included former Brazilian and U.S. presidents, but the chamber of commerce’s choice this year for its Person of the Year Awards may have tested the limits of some corporate sponsors. Bolsonaro, who swept the election last year on a right-wing platform, has drawn criticism over his views on climate and derogatory comments about minorities and the gay community.

“Attending the dinner has never involved selecting or endorsing the honoree in any way,” UBS said in the email.

Big Bank Gala Sponsors Stay On Amid Calls for #CancelBolsonaro

Credit Suisse Group AG, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Citigroup Inc. and BNP Paribas SA, which are among the dinner’s list of sponsors, declined to comment. HSBC, Bank of America Corp. and Morgan Stanley, also on the list, didn’t reply to requests for comment.

Delta said it’s no longer sponsoring the event, which takes place May 14, and declined to make further comment on the decision. Bain said that it decided to withdraw its sponsorship, despite being “long-time supporters” of the organization. The Financial Times confirmed reports of its withdrawal.

The American Museum of Natural History -- the planned venue -- also bailed out. In a tweet mid-April, the museum said it wasn’t the “optimal location” and its decision came “out of mutual respect” with the Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce.

The Marriott Marquis in New York City will be hosting the gala dinner instead. “Our company was built on the idea that everyone is welcome,” Marriott International Inc. CEO Arne Sorenson said in a May 1 statement on LinkedIn. “Allowing a group to use our facilities in no way suggests we endorse its views.”

‘I’m Furious’

On Friday, New York state Senator Brad Hoylman urged people to sign an online petition entitled #CancelBolsonaro, urging Marriott to cancel the event -- it already has over 50,000 signatures.

“I’m furious,” Hoylman, a Democrat who describes himself as the only openly LGBTQ New York State Senator, said in a statement. “I’m deeply concerned about the message such an event would send to New Yorkers, particularly LGBTQ young people.”

The controversy over Bolsonaro’s appearance is reminiscent of the early days of U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration, when companies struggled over how to respond to consumer outrage over his behavior. Several CEOs quit Trump’s business advisory council in August 2017, in protest to his response to a white-supremacist rally that turned violent.

The organization’s Person of the Year Awards Gala Dinner has been held annually since 1970, according to its website, with past honorees including Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Bill Clinton. Bolsonaro was chosen for 2019 as “a recognition of his strongly stated intention of fostering closer commercial and diplomatic ties between Brazil and the United States,” the Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce said on the site. The organization didn’t return requests for comment.

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