Politics & Government

Gay rights group turns down Bank of America’s money over HB2 compromise

Bank of America has sponsored Charlotte’s gay pride parade, shown here in 2015, since it returned in 2013 after a 19-year absence.
Bank of America has sponsored Charlotte’s gay pride parade, shown here in 2015, since it returned in 2013 after a 19-year absence. rglassberg@charlotteobserver.com

The nation’s largest gay rights group plans to reject $325,000 in Bank of America sponsorships to protest the role bank executives played in brokering a replacement for North Carolina’s House Bill 2.

The Human Rights Campaign also slashed its Corporate Equality Index scores for the bank and for Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, which also took part in the talks. The score measures corporate support for policies that affect LGBTQ employees.

Andrea Smith, the bank’s chief administrative officer, and Charles Bowman, the North Carolina market president, were part of a small group of business leaders who helped negotiate the bill that repealed HB2 – known as “the bathroom bill.” The new measure, HB 142, prevents local governments from enacting LGBT protections for four years.

“Bank of America and BCBS NC actively participated in brokering a law that will extend discrimination against countless LGBTQ people across the state of North Carolina – with particularly significant and permanent harm to transgender people,” Deena Fidas, director of HRC’s Workplace Equality Program, said in a statement.

“We did not take this action lightly. To be effective, our Corporate Equality Index must not only recognize companies when they make progress, it must hold them accountable for undermining it.”

A spokesman said the HRC has returned $25,000 to the bank and plans to forego a commitment of another $300,000. The bank is currently one of the organization’s national corporate sponsors.

“We support LGBT equality and will continue doing so despite HRC’s decision, which does not reflect our long record of leadership,” Bank of America spokesman Lawrence DeRita said in a statement.

He pointed to a record that includes offering comprehensive domestic partner benefits two decades ago, including sexual orientation in its nondiscrimination policies and a benefits package that includes “medically necessary treatments” for transgender employees in the U.S. and eventually to those in other countries.

DeRita also said the bank was the first North Carolina-based company to publicly call for repealing HB2.

“We never wavered in our consistent and public position calling for repeal of HB2,” he said, “and we engaged influential partners to join us in expressing concern for its impact.”

Lawmakers passed – and Gov. Roy Cooper signed – HB 142 in March. It was widely criticized by the HRC and other LGBT groups as well as conservative groups that supported HB2. That was the law adopted last year after the city of Charlotte passed an anti-discrimination ordinance that would have allowed people to use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify.

Diversity has been important for Bank of America.

It sponsors Charlotte’s annual Pride Parade, which even has featured a double-decker Bank of America bus. The bank has flown a rainbow-colored flag outside its Charlotte headquarters. It also has touted its recognition by the HRC for its treatment of LGBT workers.

The first item on a Bank of America webpage dedicated to its diversity and inclusion awards is the score of 100 the bank says it’s received for the past 11 years on HRC’s corporate equality index. The webpage also notes HRC’s recognition of the bank as a best place to work for LGBT equality.

HRC scores for the bank and Blue Cross have been cut to 75.

Other leading financial institutions, such Wells Fargo, Citigroup and JP Morgan Chase, all rank 100 in the HRC index. Companies often promote their rankings when recruiting employees.

In further fallout, HRC said Friday it is reviewing a credit card relationship it has with the bank, which issues HRC-branded cards used by the campaign’s members and supporters. An HRC spokesperson said the organization was taking the action “as a consequence of the score reduction.”

Last year, HRC released a letter signed by Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan and other CEOs that called for HB2’s repeal shortly after the bill became law.

During last year’s annual shareholder meeting, Moynihan reiterated the bank’s stance against the law, prompting praise from the HRC, which said the bank “will continue to be a leader for LGBT equality.” He and other bank officials criticized HB2 other times as well.

In February, Moynihan told a Charlotte audience the bill continued to hurt North Carolina’s economy, because companies and organizations were choosing other states to locate jobs and conventions.

Moynihan said that while the bill hadn’t chilled all economic activity in the state, it was acting as a constraint on the economy by costing it opportunities: “These are people that talk to me one-to-one,” he said at the time. “I know employers who have choices to make.”

Bank of America executives Smith and Bowman joined former Charlotte Chamber chairman Ned Curran, Dale Jenkins, CEO of Raleigh’s Medical Mutual Insurance Company, Brad Wilson, CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, and Charlotte Hornets President Fred Whitfield in helping broker the repeal compromise.

For days they met with legislative leaders and advisers to Cooper.

“While this is unfortunate, we know that there are many employees within Bank of America and BCBS NC who are working each day to advance equality,” said the HRC’s Fidas. “We are grateful to them and hope that in the future we can find opportunities to continue working together toward full equality.”

Jim Morrill: 704-358-5059, @jimmorrill