On Tuesday, Fifth Third Bank announced that it will stop donating million of dollars to a Florida private school voucher program due to schools that discriminate against LGBTQ people and receive the funding.
Fifth Third Bank’s announcement comes after a January 23 article in the Orlando Sentinel revealed that 156 private Florida schools (all of them Christian) that receive public scholarship funding also discriminate against LGBTQ students and their families — from denying admission to expulsion to teaching that homosexuality is a sin.
The article said there are no state laws to protect LGBTQ students from this kind of discrimination. Democrats in Florida have been working to change that, but it has been difficult with a Republican-dominated legislature.
Following the article, companies like Fifth Third Bank began to face public pressure on Twitter to pull their donations.
State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith (D), who has lead the charge to change Florida’s laws to protect LGBTQ students, tweeted Tuesday morning condemning companies who continue to donate to the voucher program and tagged Fifth Third Bank in the tweet.
The bank responded the very same day, saying “Thanks Rep. Smith for your feedback. We definitely stand with #LGBTQ students and parents. We have communicated with program officials that we will not be contributing again until more inclusive policies have been adopted by all participating schools to protect the sexual orientation of all our students. (And, we will see you at the next @OrlandoPride!).”
(Part 1) Thanks Rep. Smith for your feedback. We definitely stand with #LGBTQ students and parents. We have communicated with program officials that we will not be contributing again …
— Fifth Third Bank (@FifthThird) January 28, 2020
Smith is excited by Fifth Third Bank’s decision. “These schools are literally poisoning children’s minds against LGBTQ people, and they are funded by taxpayers. It’s wrong,” Smith told Florida Politics.
Smith also explained that this push to cut off funding is a last resort.
“We’ve tried every option. We’ve asked nicely. We’ve filed legislation that they won’t hear. So, at the end of the day, it’s about following the money.”
“We have those giant corporations who pay into this program, which is still taxpayer-funded, who support equality for LGBTQ Floridians, and they are upset that our state is sending money to schools that are anti-gay and anti-trans.”
Companies that pay into the program also get tax breaks for their donations.
The question remains if other participating corporations, some of whom Orlando Sentinel reporter Scott Maxwell called out in a recent tweet as “equality-touting,” will follow suit as well.
State Rep. Anna Eskamani (D), who has been leading the fight to protect LGBTQ students along with Rep. Smith, wrote in a statement, “We applaud Fifth Third Bank in their decision to pull funding out of the state’s discriminatory voucher program and urge other companies like Geico, Dunkin’ Brands, AutoNation, and Duke Energy to do the same.”
Florida’s scholarship programs have been giving LGBTQ students trouble for a long time. In 2018, the state created a special program for bullied students that would pay to send them to private school.
Yet many of the schools who signed up to take in these bullied students had explicit anti-LGBTQ policies, creating worry that LGBTQ students would move schools and become victims all over again.
Many other states, like Indiana and Georgia, are also dealing with similar issues. The Orlando Sentinel found that of the sixteen states that offer scholarship programs to private schools, only one (Maryland) does not allow schools who receive public funds to discriminate against LGBTQ students and families.