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Goldman CEO: Support for Gay Rights 'Not Without Price'

Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman Sachs' CEO, said his recent public support for gay rights had cost the investment bank at least one client.

NEW YORK - Goldman Sachs Group Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein said on Wednesday his recent very public support for gay rights had cost the investment bank at least one client.

At an event discussing Wall Street's role in pushing for greater lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality across corporate America, Blankfein said his stance on the matter was "not without price."

Blankfein said there had been some "adverse reaction" on at least one occasion, where a money management client "did not want to continue a relationship" with Goldman in the wake of his advocacy.

"I won't say the name of the client, but if you heard the name, it wouldn't surprise you," he added.

Blankfein joined hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer at an LGBT Leadership Summit for the financial community called "Out on the Street," which was held at Bank of America's Manhattan offices.

Blankfein's series of rare public appearances comes weeks after the company installed a new global head of corporate communications to oversee its public relations effort. Richard "Jake" Siewert, a former aide to Timothy Geithner, officially succeeded Goldman's silver-tongued, veteran spokesman, Lucas van Praag in March.

In the past year, Blankfein has become a more visible and vocal supporter of same-sex marriage. Along with other prominent Wall Street executives, he signed an open letter to New York state legislators last year urging them to legalize gay marriage. Earlier this year, Blankfein accepted the role of corporate spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, a gay-rights advocacy group.

Wednesday's event brought together Blankfein and Singer, two of Wall Street's most high-profile supporters of same-sex marriage. Both men helped push legislators in Albany to legalize gay marriage in New York State last year.

Blankfein and Singer, who runs Elliott Capital Management, may seem an unlikely pair to tackle gay rights issues.

Singer, a prominent conservative, this year signed a $1 million check to a Super PAC supporting Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. An openly gay Romney aide resigned yesterday amid reports he had encountered backlash from anti-gay conservatives on the campaign trail.

Singer, whose son is gay, has donated millions to support same-sex equality and has been a driving force behind campaigns to legalize same-sex marriage in states across the country.

Asked by an audience member and Goldman Sachs partner how the push for gay equality may be affected under a Romney administration, Singer responded, "I don't think it's going to be a harsh environment."

Blankfein acknowledged that while Singer's support for gay equality stemmed from a personal call to action, his reason for taking a public stand is driven as much by the business practicalities of having a diverse and talented workforce, as his personal view that the cause is part of a wider fight for civil and human rights.

"As a business person, as a corporate leader, as a recruiter and as a human, it is not something I regard as heavy lifting," Blankfein said.

Blankfein's increasingly visible role on the gay rights issue coincides with a recent charm offensive by the historically tight-lipped investment bank, which has increased public appearances in recent weeks.

In back-to-back television interviews last week, Blankfein acknowledged the investment bank's lack of engagement with the media during and after the financial crisis did little to help its reputation as one of the bastions of Wall Street greed

"We probably should have been out there more," Blankfein told Reuters after the event Wednesday.

Most recently, Goldman Sachs found itself the subject of more negative media glare when an executive director quit the firm by penning a scathing op-ed in the New York Times, in which he described the bank's culture as "toxic and destructive." The former employee, Greg Smith, said the bank had sidelined client needs in favor of bigger profits and that its employees regularly referred to clients as "muppets." (Reporting By Katya Wachtel; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

Copyright 2010 by Reuters. All rights reserved.

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