Investor and activist Seth Rosenberg
Investor and activist Seth Rosenberg

Q&A: A tech VC invested in saving the lives of LGBT refugees

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Name: Seth Rosenberg
Age: 27
City: San Francisco
Position: Investor with Greylock Partners, LGBT activist

J.: You support the Rainbow Railroad, a Canadian-based organization that helps to bring to North America LGBT individuals whose lives are imperiled. They live in homophobic countries such as Jamaica, Syria and Uganda that persecute, prosecute and even put to death individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identification. How did you, a straight man, become involved in this organization?

A year or two ago, I went to Winnipeg to attend a fundraiser organized by my sister, who was working at the time for a charitable foundation that helps fund startup charities, such as the Rainbow Railroad. My sister has a theater background, so she put together an event where you would go from room to room and observe actors portraying people from a number of countries, including Jamaica and Russia, who had been jailed, raped or received death threats because they were LGBT.

Emotionally, it really resonated for me. So this past April, a friend I had met at a High Holiday service a few years ago and I co-hosted a similar event in Fort Mason. It was a sold-out event that feature performance artists and slam poetry, and we raised $100,000.

Why do you think the issue of LGBT refugees in particular resonates for you?

First of all, I live in San Francisco, so I have a lot of gay friends. But it also resonates for me because of my Jewish upbringing. Not many generations ago, we had the Holocaust, and the United States and Canada wouldn’t accept enough Jewish refugees. There was a Canadian diplomat who, when asked about how many Jewish refugees his country should accept from Nazi Europe, replied, “None is too many.” That’s a sore spot in our history.

Rainbow Railroad offers a very actionable way to save someone’s life. If we have the power and capacity to do this, then we also have a responsibility. It costs $10,000 to bring an LGBT refugee over to the United States and Canada. So far, we have saved 37 people.

Seth Rosenberg baking babka before Yom Kippur
Seth Rosenberg baking babka before Yom Kippur

You take your Canadian Jewish identity very seriously. Usually, when we think of Jews in Canada, we think of Toronto and Montreal. But you’re from Winnipeg. What was it like growing up there?

The Winnipeg Jewish community is quite strong. It was settled by a lot of Eastern European Jews, and it was a hub for commodities trading. My family was among the founding members of one of Winnipeg’s synagogues, and I had my bar mitzvah there. My maternal grandparents were born in Winnipeg, and my paternal grandfather was born on a farm outside of the city. My paternal grandmother was a refugee — from the United States — who fell in love with a Canadian.

You’ve been in San Francisco for four years and the United States for five. What brought you here?

I went to New York to work in investment banking at Goldman Sachs, and then I came to San Francisco, where I worked as a product manager for Facebook’s Messenger platform before joining Greylock [which backs high-tech entrepreneurs] earlier this year.

How do you express your Jewishness in the Bay Area?

I host Shabbat dinners for friends at my home. I used to have a challah subscription that I helped organize through Facebook’s Messenger platform. I do miss the Jewish community of Winnipeg, though, and I try to get back there for the High Holidays or Passover every year.

An April profile in the San Francisco Chronicle said you have a girlfriend, but you now call yourself single. Are you looking for a nice, smart Jewish woman?

Well, you can say that I am, so long as you do so in a low-key, nuanced kind of way.

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Robert Nagler Miller
Robert Nagler Miller

Robert Nagler Miller, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Wesleyan University, received his master's degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. For more than 25 years, he worked as a writer and editor at a variety of nonprofits in the Los Angeles and Bay Areas. In 2016, he and his husband, Dr. Arnold Friedlander, relocated to Chicago. Robert loves schmoozing, noshing, kvetching, Scrabble, reading and NPR.