Scottish Bank Drops Pat Robertson

Bob Roehr, The Bay Area Reporter, San Francisco

June 11, 1999 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Blogger Tumblr

The Bank of Scotland has backed out of a business deal with Christian Coalition leader Pat Robertson after three months of rising public opposition to the joint venture.

This is a milestone in the economic war waged by social reactionaries against the gay and lesbian community. Previously, gays had to convince companies that the threat of a right wing boycott was a paper tiger. Later it worked to demonstrate that the gay market niche was worthy of pursuing. Now it has shown that there is a price to pay for coddling up to anti-gay bigots. It promises to restrict the number of companies willing to consider joint ventures with hate-mongers.

Anatomy of the deal

The proposed $50 million joint venture between the Bank of Scotland and Robertson was made public in February. It would marry the electronic banking skills of the former with Robertson's mailing lists of Christian conservatives. The televangelist has amassed those lists through The 700 Club, the Christian Broadcasting Network, and the Christian Coalition.

Log Cabin Republicans' Kevin Ivers was flying back from vacation when he read the news. And he fumed at the thought of a new revenue stream fueling Robertson's anti-gay bigotry. On March 1 he contacted Tim Hopkins of the Equality Network, a gay rights group based in Edinburgh, Scotland. Soon Log Cabin was feeding them information on Robertson, and the network was alerting the Scottish public.

The Edinburgh Scotsman wrote in a March 5 editorial: "Does one of Scotland's most prestigious institutions really feel comfortable that it is now intimately associated with a man who earnestly insists that homosexuals want to destroy Christians, that feminists kill their children and practice witchcraft, and that the United Nations is an evil organization?" It urged the bank to drop its new partner.

Opposition grew over the next three months. The bank confirmed that at least 500 individuals pulled their accounts. But even more troubling was the threat from large institutions such as Edinburgh University, local governments, and trade unions to move accounts or not renew credit card service agreements.

The value of the Bank's stock fell by more than $600 million while other bank stocks rose. Still, executives of the Bank of Scotland held steady.

Robertson provided the final straw in late May. During a broadcast of The 700 Club, he spoke of rising public opposition to the business venture, decrying the "tolerance" of Europe.

"And in Scotland, you can't believe how strong the homosexuals are. It's just unbelievable," Robertson said. He called Scotland "a dark land" because of this and impugned they had lost sight of God's ways.

Bank of Scotland chief executive Peter Burt flew to the United States for a private late night meeting with Robertson in Boston on Friday, June 4. The pair issued a statement in which they "agreed that the changed external circumstances made the proposed joint venture unfeasible."

Robertson likely will gain $15 million as part of the settlement, according to The Observer newspaper of London. The Bank of Scotland has not divulged terms of the agreement.


Equality Network's Hopkins called the payoff "very, very, unfortunate" but "better than 25 percent of future profits." He was dismayed that the bank by its actions seemed to be saying, "It was okay to badmouth minorities, but what made the difference was when Robertson started attacking Scotland."

"It's a huge victory," crowed Ivers. Corporations "try to separate the businessman in Robertson or [James] Dobson from the crazy evangelist and political activist. We sent a message through this that you cannot separate the two. When you are in bed with Pat Robertson, you are in bed with all of him."

Shelly Alpern, a senior analyst with Boston-based Trillium Assets Management, a leader in socially responsible investments, sees it as "a cautionary tale" for business. "The outcry was very broadly based, supporters were very willing to put their money where their mouths were," Alpern said. "[Other companies] will be paying close attention."

"It clearly shows the muscle of the gay dollar," said Jeffrey L. Newman, president of (Gay Financial Network). He sees it as evidence that "corporate America no longer believes it needs to hide in the shame of homophobia."

Financial advisor Per Larson, author of Gay Money, called the incident "a pimple on the fact of history," similar to the rise and fall of Anita Bryant in the 1970s. They are important to remind the world that anti-gay discrimination does exist.

But Larson compared the visible discrimination to an iceberg where 95 percent remains below the surface. He stressed the importance of also working behind the scenes to remove anti-gay policies in the workplace. The "Equality Principles" developed by the Manhattan-based Community Lesbian and Gay Resources Institute are a good standard.

Alpern believes the Scotch example can be "a real lesson" for American gays. "If we band together in a cohesive economic strategy, we can help companies see things our way." She believes that next year will see an increased number of shareholder resolutions on protections for lesbians and gays in the workplace.