Should banks and other businesses consider matters like the “sexual orientation” of their employees?

Bank of America shareholders will take up the issue today at an annual meeting in Charlotte, N.C. The bank is one of the world’s largest financial institutions with over 38 million customers in over 150 countries worldwide.

The proxy issue, otherwise known as item No. 7 on the bank’s shareholder’s proxy list, requires management to “amend its written equal opportunity policy to explicitly exclude reference to sexual orientation.”

The initiative further states it is already legally problematic and inappropriate for employees to discuss personal sexual matters while on the job and that “discussion of sexual topics could (already) be considered sexual harassment and legally actionable … .”

A Louisiana shareholder, Virginia M. Brown (owner of 306 shares of Bank of America stock) calls for shareholders to vote in favor of her initiative where the “sexual interests, inclinations and activities (of) employees should be a private matter, not a corporate concern,” concluding that sexual orientation provisions are not needed for the bank’s human resources guidelines. Calls from WND requesting her comments, were not returned.

Thomas Strobhar, from the group Citizen Action Now, submitted the proposal on behalf of the Louisiana shareholder. Strobhar, the director of CAN, said by phone he believes the bank’s human resources policies do not have to include “sexual orientation” in defending the rights of homosexual employees or applicants. He points out that many Fortune 500 companies already have rules and regulations in place to protect the private interests of its staff. He says that by bringing up sexual issues in the workplace companies like Bank of America open the door in the future to other problems (i.e., cross dressing, sexual harassment and dress code violations).

Bank of America’s board of directors has recommended to its shareholder to avoid adopting the proposal, reasoning that exclusion of the “sexual orientation” terminology would not be in the best interests of the bank. In their statement to shareholders, the directors cautioned them by saying “if the change requested … is adopted the (company) might face costly lawsuits that could diminish shareholder value.”

Terry Francisco, media relations representative from the bank said yesterday it is the policy of his company to not elaborate on the statements already made by the board.

In a somewhat unusual move in January 2005, Bank of America sent out a survey to 175,000 of its employees asking them to volunteer their sexual preference. The categories provided were: heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual, or transgendered.

Responding to WND in an e-mail, spokeswoman Kelly E. Sapp said sexual orientation was part of the survey because “we want to continue to make Bank of America the best place to work’ and the company strives to “ensure a diverse and inclusive environment where every associate is respected, empowered and rewarded for good work.”

“Our goal is to provide our associates with a rewarding and fulfilling environment,” she said. “We have found the best way to do this is to ask our associates for their input. The voice of the associate is extremely important to us – and we listen to it.”

Sapp said Bank of America supports its gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender associates in various ways, including the company affinity group, PRIDE Resource, which helps “promote a safe and equitable workplace for GLBT associates and foster a work environment attracting and retaining the best GLBT talent.”

PRIDE also works “to promote brand awareness and market development opportunities within the GLBT community through the coordination of and participation in diversity events, conferences, marketing efforts and recruiting opportunities,” Sapp said.

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