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Wall Street's Secret Society

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Although Christopher Street had the gay market to itself for most of two decades, major firms such as Merrill Lynch and American Express Financial Advisors are also getting into the act. AmEx, in particular, has a reputation for fostering a socially active and politically vocal group of gay employees. Its efforts began five years ago, when an employee named James Law realized that he was the company's only financial adviser in New York who was openly gay. Noting that the major firms had forfeited the lucrative gay market to boutique firms like Christopher Financial, he and a group of colleagues argued that AmEx should broaden its reach into the community.

The company responded by advertising in national gay magazines such as Out and pouring money into gay charities and organizations. "We've found that if we make a commitment to community relations, that's how we get most of our clients," Law says. Today, almost 300 of AmEx's 10,000 financial advisers nationwide, including 30 in New York, are involved in its gay-and-lesbian network, although Law admits that a majority of these advisers are straight, not gay.

Dana Giacchetto, who runs the successful investment-advisory firm the Cassandra Group, says his company has also benefited by hiring openly gay employees and maintaining a welcoming attitude toward gay clients. "Because we focus on the entertainment business, we have a more open, creative client base," he says. "We serve many, many gay people, and I think they find it easier to do business with us than with buttoned-up firms. For us, it's not an issue at all."

Ironically, even as their straight colleagues wake up to the potential of the gay market, many gay brokers remain ambivalent about marketing to other homosexuals. A salesman at a top New York brokerage watched quietly as a straight colleague asked for and received funding from the firm to run a promotional booth at a gay-and-lesbian convention. He realized that he wouldn't be comfortable making the same request for fear of outing himself at the firm.

Why, in the end, if Wall Street is so inhospitable, do so many gays stay on? Perhaps because, like many of their straight counterparts, they accept that sacrifice is part of the bargain: Staying quiet, playing the game, ignoring the faggot jokes, getting a lap dance -- this is the price they pay for a career that offers such lavish material rewards. "It's a deal with the devil," says one banker. "No one can say they didn't know what they were getting into."

One top gay bond trader relishes the conflict. "Lets face it," he says, "there's no place in the world you can make so much money so quickly. Wall Street is the ultimate boys' club, and like all boys, they get off by pushing each other around and earn special points by bashing the fags. But it's a culture that rewards performance and aggression. If you earn enough, and you're mean enough, and you go with the flow, no one can hurt you. You just need to remember that every time they fuck with you, you fuck with them twice as hard."

On the worst days at work, they can comfort themselves with Rolex watches, Aspen ski weekends, Gramercy Park apartments, orchestra seats, and the other perks of their profession. At a recent party attended by gay financial-world types, the payoff was palpable. Well-dressed men chattered happily as a handsome server walked around with trays of hors d'oeuvre. They discussed plans for their Hamptons summer houses and Fire Island retreats, trips to South Beach, safaris in Kenya.

One man, a tanned, dapper banker in his forties, talked cheerfully, if a tad defensively, about his life. Working on Wall Street, he said, had allowed him to see the world, meet famous people, generously donate to the causes he found important. Yes, it was true that he had to be discreet at work, but in the end, what a small price to pay.

After his third glass of champagne, he settled into the plush leather couch, and for a moment his brimming confidence seemed to shrink. He acknowledged that he had not had a relationship in more than five years, and that sometimes all the posturing and hiding made him sick. He talked about moving out of New York, cashing out, settling down. "I guess it's true that in the end they buy you," he said. "They buy your dignity. And the worst thing is, you happily sell it to them." Thinking it through, he remained silent for about a minute, until a thought seemed to perk him up again. "I guess," he said, smiling, "people have sold their self-respect for a lot less than $3 million a year."

Additional reporting by Maer Roshan.


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