SAN FRANCISCO -- In a year when "family values" has become a catch phrase, BankAmerica Corp.'s relationship with the Boy Scouts of America has touched off a political fire storm.
Last spring, the nation's second-largest bank cut off its charitable contributions to the Scouts because of their policy of prohibiting homosexuals from becoming members or troop leaders. But after an outright attack from Christian conservatives and a veiled one from the Republican Party, the bank reversed its stand in August.
In a city where gays hold considerable political power, the flip-flop has lead to threat of retaliation from the city government and a boycott by homosexuals.
Others Hold Fast
BankAmerica's position, moreover, stands in stark contrast to the policies of Wells Fargo & Co. and Levi Strauss & Co., which have held fast to cutting off funds for the Scouts.
BankAmerica said in a statement last August that its reversal reflected a change in the Boy Scouts policy. The group, it said, issued a "clarification" that affirmed it was open to "all boys who subscribe to the Scout oath and law."
The Scouts, however, beg to differ. "We've never changed," said Blake Lewis, spokesman for Boy Scouts of America. "A homosexual lifestyle [does not] allow a person to be a member or a leader."
Gay activists contend that BankAmerica bowed to pressure. Indeed, the Christian Coalition of television evangelist Pat Robertson had joined with other conservative groups in calling for boycotts against BankAmerica, Wells, and Levi Strauss.
Demonstrators upholding "traditional values" met outside BankAmerica headquarters to burn deposit books and rip up credit cards.
The issue reached fever pitch when the Republican Party inserted in its presidential campaign platform in August a denunciation of unnamed corporations that it said were undermining American families.
|No Comment' Policy
BankAmerica has steadfastly declined to respond to questions on the matter, which has received wide coverage in the local press. A spokesman said the company would not elaborate on its earlier press statement.
But the issue is said to have preoccupied the bank's top officer. Chairman
and chief executive Richard M. Rosenberg met in late August with Carole Migden, a lesbian member of San Francisco's board of supervisors, and several other city officials on the matter. The city representatives left unappeased.
Mr. Rosenberg, Ms. Migden said, expressed his belief that the Boy Scouts do not discriminate and therefore do not violate corporate policies. The bank's decision to contribute to the Scouts this year was "irrevocable," he reportedly told the contingent.
The bank "yielded to pressure," Ms. Migden said.
The board of supervisors is now considering a resolution that would have the city withdraw about $6 million of lockbox and other account services from the bank.
A legislative aide to Supervisor Roberta Achtenberg, who is one of the sponsors of the proposal, said San Francisco will still do a lot of business with BankAmerica because cutting all relationships might hurt the city financially.
Some gay activists, meanwhile, are calling for a total boycott of the company.
"They should have admitted they were being pressured," said Tommi A. Mecca, a writer for a San Francisco gay newspaper. "At least that would have been honest."