Confirmed victory

4/2/2013 update:

Victory! According to Mike at USAA (information posted on USAA's facebook page), USAA now recognizes same-sex spouses, and partners in civil unions and domestic partnerships as family members. Apparently, same-sex spouses and partners are now eligible for USAA membership on the same basis as opposite-sex spouses. Additionally, USAA informed me that this recognition of same-sex spouses and partners applies even if the couple has moved to a state that does not recognize same-sex marriages, civil unions, or domestic partnerships. Finally, USAA states that it will clarify this policy on its usaa.com website.

USAA, thank you for doing the right thing because it's the right thing to do, and recognizing all committed families, spouses and partners on the same basis, regardless of sexual orientation.

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Update: See below for Q&A. If you sign this petition, please use a real email address or your signature will not be counted by the system.

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USAA is a Fortune 200 financial services company that caters to military servicemembers (including veterans) and their families. Members can access USAA's highly-competitive banking, insurance, and investment services. USAA awards membership to soldiers, sailors, marine, and airmen, as well as their "families," which it arbitrarily defines as including only STRAIGHT families. According to USAA, a loving same-sex married or partnered couple does not constitute a family. Instead, USAA refers to same-sex married spouses as "roommates" or "cohabitants".

This is USAA's official company line:

"USAA is a membership based company that considers cohabitants, domestic partners, civil union partners, and same-sex marriage spouses not eligible for membership." How nice that domestic partners and spouses are lumped in with common roommates.

USAA thus awards membership to former (divorced) spouses, adult children, and even grandchildren of STRAIGHT servicemembers and former servicemembers. Nevertheless, it continues to discriminate against gay and lesbian servicemembers by refusing to allow spouses or partners - even legally-wed or partnered in their respective states - of gay or lesbian servicemembers to join USAA. One ex-customer of USAA described how her insurance coverage was revoked after her partner of 15 years, a military veteran, died of breast cancer - all because she was not a "member" of USAA, even though she clearly would have been had she been married to a man instead of a woman.

Especially now that the military allows gays and lesbians to serve openly, it is patently wrong and discriminatory to deny an equal opportunity for these individuals to become members. In fact, early last year USAA even decided to award health and other benefits to partners of its gay and lesbian employees, but left gay and lesbian servicemembers and their families in the lurch.

USAA has at times claimed that it follows the "DoD" or IRS policy. This is total bunk for a few reasons. First, the DoD policy now allows gays and lesbians to serve openly. Second, DOMA only applies to the federal government, not to individual businesses. Contrary to popular belief, USAA is not a government or military-owned bank. It is a private company that sets its own policies. The vast majority of businesses (including other banks, car rental companies, insurance companies, etc.) have no problem offering benefits and coverage to partners and spouses of gay and lesbian customers.

USAA's discrimination is especially egregious because USAA claims to support the military, yet discriminates against gay and lesbian servicemembers - who put their lives on the line every day for our freedom - and their families.

Let USAA know that this double standard is unequal, unacceptable, unfair, unjust, unwarranted, and un-American! ALL of our proud men and women in the U.S. Military deserve equal treatment. Demand that USAA stop this discrimination against our troops and their families now!

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NOTE: Same-sex couples in California may have a legal remedy pursuant to the Unruh Civil Rights Act. Please see "petition updates" for details.

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Question and Answers

Q: USAA tells me that they will list my same-sex spouse or partner on my insurance policy. What's the problem?

A: This confuses two separate issues. Each state regulates its own insurance, and some states require USAA to list legally married couples on insurance policies. Likewise, even roommates can be listed on insurance policies - for an additional premium - regardless of the state (even in Alabama, South Carolina, Texas, etc.)

However, USAA has absolute discretion in most states regarding how it refers to same-sex spouses or domestic partners, and whether it will make those spouses or partners members of USAA, as opposite-sex spouses are. The current USAA policy is to refer to spouses as "roommates" or "cohabitants", and that same-sex spouses or domestic partners are not eligible for membership with USAA. This is where the discrimination comes in. USAA could just as easily treat gay and lesbian servicemembers and veterans with respect, and correctly refer to their spouses and partners as such, rather than roommates, which is totally disrespectful. Likewise, USAA could just as easily treat same-sex spouses as spouses, and grant them membership to USAA. It chooses not to do so.

Q: I have seen several posts on USAA's facebook wall that make it seem like USAA's policy is not discriminatory.

A: USAA is referring to its policies regarding listing additional insured on insurance policies, which is completely separate. USAA is obfuscating the issue to try to cover up its discrimination. See above.

Q: Do you have proof?

A: Yes, if you click on "petition updates" above, you can see that numerous servicemembers and veterans have documented the discrimination against their same-sex spouses or partners. In addition, USAA is refusing to clarify its policy in writing regarding membership eligibility at the moment. Once and if additional information is received, it will be posted in the "petition updates" section.

Q: I'm not gay, so why should I care?

A: Regardless of your personal views on gay marriage or other forms of partnership, the issue is that some states have chosen to treat gays and lesbians equally, either through same-sex marriage, or through civil unions and domestic partnerships. Polls show that a majority of Americans are overwhelmingly in favor of granting gays and lesbians the right to enter into civil unions and domestic partnerships, and that actually a majority of Americans now support same-sex marriage.

Regardless, though, the issue is treating all families with respect and dignity. If a loving couple is married or partnered in their respective state, then institutions should treat them equally. This is especially true where one or both of the partners or spouses has served our country proudly, and put his/her life on the line to protect this country and our freedom.

Q: Do I have legal recourse?

A: It depends. You should consult with an attorney, and this is not intended to be legal advice. In California however, all businesses are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, and even marital status. This may mean that if you are a California resident, under the Unruh Civil Rights Act USAA is required to treat your same-sex domestic partner or spouse as it would any opposite-sex married couple, which would include granting your significant other full member status. In other states, the answer is more unclear, but you are probably not protected. This is why it's especially important for USAA to do the right thing and choose to treat same-sex spouses and domestic partners equally, regardless of whether local laws require it to do so. USAA should not get away with doing the bare legal minimum.

Q: How do you know all this?

A: I worked at USAA for a year. In addition, I have spoken to numerous members who have reported discrimination against their same-sex spouses or partners, and have scoured the web for additional reports.

Q: Why do you hate USAA?

A: I don't. On the contrary, I love USAA. That's why I worked for them. I've been a USAA member since 2005. I think they are a superb organization for the most part, and have outstanding customer service (except in this regard, although from what I hear the customer service has been on the decline in the past few years even generally). Most employees at USAA care deeply about the military. If I hated USAA, I would simply wash my hands of the organization, and certainly not be so passionate about encouraging them change their policies. I just want USAA to do the right thing and to treat all servicemembers and their families with dignity.

Q: Who are you?

A: My name is Jason Cabot. I am a third year student at Harvard Law School, and I am graduating in May 2012. I would not necessarily consider myself an activist, but I do feel passionately that USAA should do the right thing and treat all gay and lesbian servicemembers, veterans, and their families equally, regardless of sexual orientation.

Q: Why do you think USAA is so recalcitrant in its treatment of gays and lesbians?

A: This is strictly my personal opinion. USAA is based in Texas. Even though the majority of American servicemembers, and the vast majority of the American public, supported the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, USAA's management is led by an older generation. Almost every member on its board of directors is a retired general or flag officer. See https://www.usaa.com/inet/pages/about_usaa_corporate_governance_board_of_directors.

Likewise, out of the 11 members of USAA's executive council (top management), all 10 are white, 9 are male, and all (or nearly all) are beyond the age of 50. See https://www.usaa.com/inet/pages/about_usaa_corporate_governance_executive_council. Moreover, to my knowledge, every single member on its executive council is a staunch republican. Looking up the donation records (which are public records) for the 2008 election cycle, it appears that every one (for whom I could find donation records) donated to McCain in 2008 and most donated to either Rick Perry or Mitt Romney in 2012. Moreover, every executive (Assistant Vice President or above) whose donation records I could find donated to a republican candidate. Statistically speaking, such individuals are not likely to be very supportive of gay rights.

USAA is simply not an organization that is very tolerant of different viewpoints. Most of its executives, even some who might otherwise lean democratic or be supportive of gay rights, donate to republican candidates in a desire to conform and not stick out from the group. Donating to a democratic candidate, or voicing support for LGBT rights, is unfortunately probably a career ender among the executive ranks. This is an attitude that needs to change.

Letter to
Vice President, Enterprise Planning Stephen Speakes
General Counsel Steven Bennett
President, USAA FSB David Bohne
and 9 others
Vice President, Member Services Wayne Peacock
Executive Communications at USAA
CEO Joe Robles
President, P&C Group Stuart Parker
Vice President, People Services Shon Manasco
CFO Kristi Matus
Vice President, Corporate Communications Wendi Strong
President, USAA Financial Advice Group Christopher Claus
USAA
Stop discriminating against gay servicemembers!

USAA awards membership to former spouses, adult children, and even grandchildren of servicemembers and former servicemembers. Nevertheless, it continues to discriminate against gay and lesbian servicemembers by refusing to allow spouses or partners - legally-wed or partnered in their respective states - of gay and lesbian servicemembers to join USAA.

Especially now that the military allows gays and lesbians to serve openly, it is patently wrong and discriminatory to deny an equal opportunity for these individuals to become members. In fact, early last year USAA even decided to award health and other benefits to partners of its gay and lesbian employees, but left gay and lesbian servicemembers and their families in the lurch.

USAA has claimed that it follows the "DoD" or IRS policy. This is total bunk for a few reasons. First, the DoD policy now allows gays and lesbians to serve openly. Second, DOMA only applies to the federal government, not to individual businesses. Contrary to popular belief, USAA is not a government or military-owned bank. It is a private company that sets its own policies. The vast majority of businesses (including other banks, car rental companies, insurance companies, etc.) have no problem offering benefits and coverage to partners and spouses of gay and lesbian customers.

USAA's discrimination is especially egregious because it claims to support the military, yet discriminates against gay and lesbian servicemembers - who put their lives on the line every day for our freedom - and their families.

Stop this unequal, unacceptable, unfair, unjust, unwarranted, and un-American discrimination against our troops and their families now! Treat all members of the U.S. Military and their families equally.
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Sincerely,