2 min

RBC cans safe-space program

Rainbow stickers 'polarized' employees

After facing a boycott from a rightwing Christian group, the Royal Bank Of Canada (RBC) has cancelled a new program for gay and lesbian employees.

On Oct 15, RBC announced that it is ending the employee-initiated Safe Space program. It denies that the decision had anything to do with a boycott by the Canada Family Action Coalition (CFAC), a Christian advocacy group from Alberta.

“I don’t know that there was an impact [from the boycott],” says Beja Rodeck, a media relations manager at RBC. Instead, Rodeck said the bank’s diversity committee ended the project because “It polarized people [within RBC].”

The Safe Space program asked RBC employees to display rainbow triangle stickers in their work spaces to show that they are gay positive. In response, CFAC called for its members to withdraw their accounts, mortgages and investments from RBC. The group claimed Safe Space had created “divisiveness, fear, mistrust and feelings of duress” because some employees feared they would lose their jobs or promotions for not displaying the sticker.

Rodeck says the diversity committee that launched Safe Space in September will continue to provide support to employees who have questions about sexual orientation issues. She said the sticker program upset people on both sides of the debate.

“Some people felt they were being compelled [to have a sticker],” she says. But “I think the impetus for all this was from a [gay] employee who felt he was being singled out by the stickers.”

Brian Rushfeldt, the executive director of CFAC, is confident the boycott had an impact on the bank’s decision. The organization claims that more than 300,000 people boycotted the bank.

Laurie Arron, the director of advocacy for Egale Canada, calls the bank’s reversal “unfortunate,” but downplays the issue.

“Equality doesn’t require a sticker campaign,” says Arron.

The Safe Space program isn’t the first time that a financial institution has gotten involved in gay and lesbian rights. In 2002, Vancouver-based VanCity Credit Union launched an ad campaign in the mainstream media showing same-sex couples alongside phrases such as, “I want to bank with people who value all partnerships.” In response, two Catholic schools who had an agreement to run a credit-union program for students ended their relationship with VanCity. The company continued the ads anyway.

“We stuck to our guns,” says Sara Holland, a public affairs specialist at VanCity. “We felt it was important to make a bold statement that we support the community.”

She says the backlash had little impact on company profits. As well, the media coverage of the issue attracted other schools to the school credit-union program.

Rushfeldt questions why queers need stickers to feel supported when other groups don’t. “You could have a program for any minority,” he says. “Let’s have a sticker for the Christians; let’s have one for the Jews.”

Rona Abramovitch, one of the founders of the University Of Toronto’s Positive Space program, says stickers help break the silence people often have about their sexuality. They send the message that gay and lesbian people can feel comfortable talking about who they are.

Rushfeldt rejects those concerns. “I’m not sure that sexual behaviour is something you want to be talking about in the workplace,” he says. “They’re there to do banking.”