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Wyndham Destinations pulls Florida voucher donations over anti-gay school policies

Brooke Sopelsa, Ryan Ruggiero
In this photo illustration, the Wyndham Destinations Company logo seen displayed on a smartphone.
Igor Golovniov | Getty Images

Wyndham Destinations became the third major company in three days to announce it will stop donating millions of dollars to Florida's private school voucher program after a newspaper investigation found that some of the program's beneficiaries discriminate against LGBTQ students.

Wyndham said that it told the organization last year that it would "halt funding if concerns about the voucher program were not addressed."

"As we have not seen any further action to address our concerns, we are today discontinuing our support and funding for Step Up For Students and hope that the organization will quickly work with the Florida Legislature to immediately end any discriminatory practices existing within the voucher program," the company told NBC News and CNBC on Thursday afternoon.

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The timeshare company also said it would re-evaluate its support if the concerns are addressed, adding, "we remain in agreement with the value in providing low-income families with the opportunity to choose the best education for their children."

The Orlando-based hotel company's announcement comes just two days after a similar announcement by Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bank and one day after an announcement from San Francisco-based Wells Fargo.

"We have reviewed this matter carefully and have decided to no longer support Step Up for Students," Wells Fargo said of the voucher program, noting the bank's employees "highly value diversity and inclusion, and we oppose discrimination of any kind."

Waste Management said in a statement to NBC News that it would be looking into the issue but said any discrimination is unacceptable.

"Waste Management is committed to Inclusion and Diversity and believes that discrimination of any kind is simply unacceptable. We are deeply concerned about the allegations and are investigating this issue before we make further funding decisions," Waste Management spokesperson Dawn McCormick said in an emailed statement.

The decisions by the three companies — which had donated to the voucher program in exchange for write-offs on their state tax bills — come within a week of the Orlando Sentinel investigation that found that 156 private Christian schools with anti-gay views educated more than 20,000 students across the state with tuition paid for by Florida tax dollars.

"Florida's scholarship programs, often referred to as school vouchers, sent more than $129 million to these religious institutions," the Sentinel reported Jan. 23. "That means at least 14 percent of Florida's nearly 147,000 scholarship students last year attended private schools where homosexuality was condemned or, at a minimum, unwelcome."

The Sentinel investigation found that 83 of the 156 schools with anti-gay views do not permit LGBTQ students to attend and that some of the schools prohibit students whose parents are gay. For example, Trinity Christian Academy, located in the northeastern corner of the state, received nearly $4 million in school vouchers last year despite having a policy that states "homosexuality" is "in opposition" to the school's beliefs and a homosexual student "would be required to withdraw," according to the Sentinel's findings.

However, when asked whether Step Up for Children, the nonprofit that administers the majority of Florida's school vouchers, would reevaluate which schools it works with following the Orlando Sentinel's findings, a spokesperson told NBC News that neither the organization nor the Florida Department of Education is "aware of any systemic discrimination against scholarship students, including LGBTQ students."

"We have no evidence of students being denied enrollment or expelled from private schools due to their sexual orientation or gender identity," Step Up for Students' public affairs manager, Patrick Gibbons, told NBC News. "It's also important to note that among the students being helped by the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship are LGBTQ students."

An email seeking comment from the state Education Department did not get a response.

Last July, before the Sentinel's investigation, a columnist for the paper wrote about the voucher program. Following the column's publication, at least one company, Rosen Hotels & Resorts, an Orlando-based hospitality chain, stopped donating to the program.

The column also led state Sen. Darryl Rouson to file a bill last year that would prohibit private schools that deny enrollment to students based on "race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, disability, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity" from benefiting from the program.

Rouson's bill, which was officially introduced this month, has not yet been considered by the Legislature.