One week after the Orlando Sentinel published a story about private schools discriminatory policies against LGBTQ families, two major banking institutions have decided to halt all future donations to the state’s voucher program that funds children’s education at these schools.
Banking giant Wells Fargo, along with Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bank, have withdrawn millions of dollars in support in response to the information that has come to light.
It probably didn’t hurt that the Sentinel followed up their story with an editorial titled “Companies can’t support gay rights while also supporting gay discrimination at schools.” Both Wells Fargo and Fifth Third Bank were explicitly named as pro-LGBTQ companies whose money was supporting anti-LGBTQ schools, and the article called on them to back up their rainbow-festooned marketing with solid action:
We prefer to believe these companies are sincere in their belief that people should not face discrimination because of their sexual orientation. Some companies told reporters they were unaware that some schools had policies rejecting students because of that orientation.
Fair enough, but what are they doing about it?
Hand-wringing through these statements isn’t enough. If these companies truly believe in LGBTQ equality, they’ll make public statements declaring their intent to stop diverting the corporate taxes to private-school voucher programs if the Florida Legislature doesn’t fix the problem… People are watching to see what they do. Or what they don’t do.
The editorial pointed out that, while many faith-based schools see no problem with their discriminatory admission standards, the state might leap into action to prevent the loss of major corporate donations.
Currently Florida’s voucher program contributes funds to 156 private Christian schools practicing discrimination against students who are themselves LGBTQ or who have an LGBTQ person in their household. State scholarships brought more than 20,800 students into such schools, to the tune of $129 million.
The problem there is twofold: For one, students from LGBTQ families or who are themselves LGBTQ are de facto ineligible for a large number of state-sponsored scholarships because the schools exclude them from consideration.
Meanwhile the non-LGBTQ students in these schools are taught the same religious rhetoric, myths, and stereotypes that have been used to condemn and reject the LGBTQ community for decades.
For anyone who’s been to a Pride parade in the last decade, it’s no surprise that banks have become big-time champions of LGBTQ rights, throwing around sponsorship dollars and rainbow-printed swag with company logos. It’s less often that they have the opportunity to do something concrete that stands to affect public policy on LGBTQ issues.
It’s no particular sacrifice to hold on to money that would have otherwise been given away, and it would be naïve to assume that the banks have made this decision on principle, without consideration to the financial and public relations ramifications. They’re doing this because it makes them look good to the clientele they’re interested in attracting.
But regardless of their reasons, at least they’re choosing to side against discrimination… and an ally able to leverage large amounts of money to challenge that discrimination is a powerful ally indeed.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to David for the link)