Barclays Boss Staley and His Brother Embrace Change at AIDS GalaBy
Jes Staley, activist brother Peter, and Bill Clinton honored
Gay Men’s Health Crisis vows fight on health care, research
On March 24, 1987, HIV-positive Peter Staley, working on Wall Street like his brother Jes, stepped over the bodies at a die-in staged by ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power. He was at the group’s next meeting, and in 1989, he chained himself to a balcony at the New York Stock Exchange with a banner reading "Sell Wellcome." Days later, Burroughs Wellcome lowered the price of the AIDS treatment AZT by 20 percent.
Jes Staley, now chief executive of Barclays, remembers that protest -- he was on JPMorgan’s equities desk at the time -- and can chart his own transformation as a banker standing up for gay rights and AIDS research, as well as the influence of his brother.
"We talk politics a lot," Jes Staley said Thursday night at the 35th anniversary benefit of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, which has set its sights on eliminating AIDS. The event, at Highline Stages in Manhattan, brought Peter and Jes together to be honored and to reflect on activism.
In interviews, Peter said the era of President Donald Trump calls for different forms of protest than in his ACT UP days, while Jes cited social change as critical to the culture of contemporary banking.
A "Paradise Garage" neon sign, evoking the New York discotheque of the ’70s and ’80s, glowed over the bar as George Michael’s "I Want Your Sex" played. Deep in the crowd, Jes Staley mingled with colleagues from Barclays, including Barbara Byrne, who raised four kids while working in the industry, and Mark Lane, involved with the employee network for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
"This is a rock-star banker of Barclays," Staley said of Byrne, who was a producer of the film "Equity" and helped create the Women in Leadership Index, which tracks the performance of companies with more gender-diverse leadership. "Barbara leads a number of the social change groups in the bank and she’s got a direct line to me whenever she wants it. And she knows it. And she uses it."
"Diversity is everything," Byrne said, noting its many forms. "It’s creativity. Finance is an art; it requires creativity."
Jes Staley interjected. "You’ll never keep the millennials unless you think like that," he said. "You look at the millennials, they understand diversity in a way we never even imagined 40 years ago. We’ve got to live how they live if we’re going to keep them."
The crowd filled in with impeccably dressed guests, millennial and otherwise, including Larry Kramer, who wrote the play "Normal Heart" and is a founder of ACT UP; Edie Windsor and her lawyer Roberta Kaplan, who won a Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage; Chelsea Clinton, on hand to accept an award on behalf of her father for his work on AIDS through the Clinton Foundation, especially in Africa; gossip queen Liz Smith; and David France, whose documentary "How to Survive a Plague," also a book, chronicles the ACT UP crusade.
Peter Staley -- who features prominently in France’s work -- bounced on his feet. He was a little giddy with the news that the House of Representatives had put off a vote on a bill that would dismantle President Barack Obama’s signature health-care law.
"We’ll hopefully continue to foil Trump’s centerpiece agenda item," Peter Staley said. "I think we’ve got the upper hand."
Traditional electoral politics -- showing up, contacting senators and house members -- had paid off in this case. "I think the activism of the resistance is much less involved with ACT UP tactics," he said. "It doesn’t require people getting arrested. It doesn’t require radical activism. This is very traditional legislative action, and you can do that from any office."
He cited not just the health-care bill, but climate change, abortion rights and financial regulation, a matter he noted his brother had addressed.
"When Trump came into office, there were some companies that felt they had to go kiss the ring, he’s going to get rid of all our regulations. I’m proud of Jes for speaking up and saying, we’re doing fine under Dodd-Frank, we’re not looking for lots of candy thrown our way from Trump. What really matters to the financial industry is a robust democratic system."
Hudson Valley beet ravioli was being nibbled at when Jes Staley accepted his award, recalling having two young daughters and a brother who was HIV-positive, at a time when that term brought on fear.
"I remember a number of people telling my wife, make sure your brother-in-law doesn’t come to your house," Jes Staley said. "My wife and I talked about it a lot. She was resolute that Peter was part of this family. He was always welcome, he was always hugged by our daughters, and he always hugged them."