TORONTO (CP) - Thousands of Royal Bank clerks are being asked to display rainbow stickers at their desks and cubicles to promote a safe work environment for gays, lesbians and bisexuals.
The rainbow sticker program is being organized by an employee diversity group within a department of the bank and targets 2,000 clerks at a Royal Bank "warehouse" in Toronto, as well as smaller satellite offices in Mississauga and Guelph.
The three-month pilot project dubbed "rainbow space" mirrors a program known as "space safe" used to promote gay pride at colleges and other workplaces in the United States.
"During the Nazi regime, a pink triangle was used to label gay men and a black triangle was used to label lesbians or other 'anti-socials,' " says a newsletter advocating the use of the rainbow stickers.
"In the late 1970s, the rainbow flag was developed to represent not only pride in having survived and thrived in a world that has often been a hostile place, but also pride in the extraordinary diversity of the community."
Bank spokesman David Moorcroft said Friday the program, launched this month, is employee-driven and not part of company policy.
He said the Royal Bank's 60,000 employees at locations across Canada will not be asked to participate.
"The program is not going to be rolled out bank-wide," he said.
But Moorcroft said the company is open to employee feedback on the initiative.
"Our local diversity committees are always experimenting with trying to figure out how to do a better a job of making all our employees feel included and welcome," he said.
The newsletter distributed to 2,000 employees states that displaying the sticker will show bank employees that homophobia will not be tolerated.
"Voluntarily displaying this sticker shows gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered co-workers that they can feel safe with you, and shows unsupportive co-workers that you won't tolerate homophobia," it states.
The head of the Canada Family Action Coalition, a right-wing Christian group, says the newsletter implies anyone who doesn't display the rainbow is therefore homophobic.
"That is a horrible label to have attached to someone who just doesn't agree with various types of sexual activity," said Charles McVety, who is head of the coalition and also president of Canada Christian College.
McVety says at least one bank employee feels threatened by the campaign. He wants the Royal Bank should put a stop to it.
"We would like them to withdraw the newsletter and not go forward with teaching morality when their core business is banking," he said.
Moorcroft said the concern is "legitimate," and feedback such as that will be considered by the Royal Bank if it modifies its diversity strategy.
But he said the pilot project will continue.
Similar diversity programs are used in universities and other workplaces across North America, said Rona Abramovitch a professor who lectures on the subject of diversity at the University of Toronto, which implemented its "positive space" program in 1996.
"We've been absolutely clear that having a sticker or not having a sticker doesn't tell you anything about whether a person is homophobic or even in support of the campaign," she said.
"One of the things about doing anything like this is that it provokes discussion and debate and thought, and people actually engaging one another."