After other financial institutions refused, Travelers Bank USA agreed to issue the Rainbow Card, a Visa card tied to gay and lesbian causes.
But the Wilmington, Del.-based subsidiary of Travelers Group kept a low profile Tuesday when the card was unveiled at a press conference in New York - at the Rainbow Room in Rockefeller Center.
Bank officials said only that the card made "good business sense." They let others take center stage, including tennis legend Martina Navratilova; Pam Derderian, principal partner of the lesbian-owned marketing company Do Tell Inc.; and Mary Triesbach, director of marketing for Subaru of America.
Subaru is the first major sponsor of the Rainbow Foundation, which distributes corporate funds to health and education groups in the gay community, and which lends its name to the credit card. On the card is a photograph of people holding rainbow flags - the symbol of pride and diversity for lesbians and gays - taken by Ms. Navratilova from the stage at a 1993 march on Washington where she was the keynote speaker.
At that march, Ms. Derderian, her companion and business partner, Nancy Becker, and Ms. Navratilova came up with the idea of creating the nonprofit foundation and a credit card to benefit gay and lesbian causes, the tennis star said.
"It was the first time in a crowd like that I felt complete acceptance" as a lesbian, Ms. Navratilova said.
"We wanted to think of a way that we could tap into the community in ways that wouldn't cost them an extra penny," Ms. Derderian said. Spending in the gay and lesbian community is generally estimated at about $500 billion a year.
The no-fee credit card carries an introductory rate of 6.9%, which rises to 16.65% after six months. Cardholders can transfer balances at the introductory rate.
Accounts can be opened jointly by partners who are living together, and either cardholder can obtain higher credit limits. And additional cards can be requested for others in chosen families.
Rainbow cardholders who buy vehicles from Subaru, which has targeted marketing at the gay community, will receive a free extended service contract. The auto maker will also make a $100 contribution to the foundation for each vehicle sold.
The Rainbow Card Foundation gets a small share of all purchases made with the cards and of the interest paid on revolving balances. The card is its primary fund-raising tool.
Promoters said if 250,000 people get and use the affinity card during the next five years, more than $20 million will be raised to support lesbian and gay arts, cultural, and civil rights organizations, plus a number of health-related groups.
Ms. Derderian said the card will allow gays and lesbians to express pride each time they use it.
Other banks and credit unions have tried their hand at issuing cards to the gay and lesbian market, such as People's Bank in Bridgeport, Conn., with its Uncommon Clout Visa.
"There's definitely room for more than one card so they can be competitive on rates and fees," said Scott Burdick, marketing director for Overlooked Opinions, a Chicago-based research firm that focuses on the gay market.
Ms. Navratilova said she carries other cards but now will use the Rainbow Card primarily. "I actually used it last night," she said, "and it was accepted."
She is an unpaid spokeswoman for the foundation and appears in print ads for the credit card, which carry the theme: "Get it. Use it. Got it?"
Mr. Burdick said Ms. Navratilova's involvement will lend credibility to the Rainbow Card, "especially for lesbians - the hardest part of our community to reach."
In the months ahead, the parties will be working to gain additional corporate support for the foundation and to broaden the available financial services to include mortgages, mutual funds, and insurance.
Do Tell Inc. will oversee marketing and advertising of the card, which will entail direct mail and national print advertising in select publications, plus a grass roots effort to make take-one brochures available at gay businesses and events.