2020 Must be the Year NYC is Open for Business with the LGBT Community

| By Jonathan Lovitz


[As seen in Crain's New York, December 20, 2019]


What do Los Angeles, Chicago, Nashville, Baltimore, Tampa, Orlando, and Columbus all have in common? They have all bested New York City to recognizing and including LGBT-owned businesses in city contracts and economic development opportunities. In 2019 alone more than a dozen counties, cities, and government agencies joined the Fortune 500 in recognition of Certified LGBT Business Enterprise® (Certified LGBTBE®) companies, bringing the national figure to more than thirty municipalities--and growing.  


With 1.4 million LGBT-owned businesses adding more than $1.7 trillion dollars and tens of thousands of jobs to the U.S. economy, the more urgent question is: why is the nation’s most progressive and inclusive economy lagging so far behind other big cities to include Certified LGBTBE® companies the way they do for women and other minority-owned businesses? Adding more suppliers fuels innovative competition, lowers prices for taxpayers, and results in taxpayer savings that get reinvested in our roads, schools and small businesses across New York.  


While we await the New York City Council to hear and vote on Bill 1463, which would formally recognize, track, and ultimately include Certified LGBTBE® companies, we call on the City to use existing New York law to provide an immediate and essential conduit to put LGBT business owners to work in America’s largest economy.  Enter the underutilized but pivotal, “Emerging Business Enterprise” (EBE) program.


According to the website for the program, “the Emerging Business Enterprise Certification Program... is designed to promote fairness and equity in city contracting and to level the playing field for these business owners.”  


The long history of social and economic discrimination that has faced the LGBT community is exactly why the NGLCC created a certification that recongizes companies LGBT-owned and operated nearly 20 years ago. Simply put: economic equality is essential for social equality to advance. 


However, the barrier to enter the EBE program for most business owners, especially LGBT, is the narrative portion. An LGBT business owner must prove the direct correlation between discrimination and economic hardship. This is not just an unfair burden, it’s potentially emotionally and fiscally damaging to the business owner. 


According to the New York City’s Department of Law website on the rules for minority business inclusion: the power to make the rules more fair lies squarely with the Commissioner of Small Business Services.  Together with the NGLCC and LGBT business leaders, SBS can allow the existing LGBTBE certification to meet this burden of proof as they do for other minority communities in other SBS programs using the povision below:


Our local law provides that a person who is "socially and economically disadvantaged" is "a person who has experienced social disadvantage in American society as a result of causes not common to persons who are not socially disadvantaged, and whose ability to compete in the free enterprise system has been impaired due to diminished capital and credit opportunities as compared to others in the same business area who are not socially disadvantaged." The Commissioner of Small Business Services will promulgate regulations addressing how social and economic disadvantage may be demonstrated by applicants for the program....


As NGLCC’s America’s LGBT Economy Report shows, countless interactions with procurement leaders and buyers that have resulted in a hardship are the result of unconscious or subversive bias. We have heard far too many stories of Certified LGBTBEs® stating that they were the finalist for the bid, and then mention something specific to their LGBT status (ie: their business partner was their spouse; or their business documents reference a name or gender no longer used). That resulted in a physical and/or tonal shift of the meeting. While other reasons are given as a cover to not proceed with the bid, the obvious cause is anti-LGBT bias.  


New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who monitors and evaluates minority business utilization (or lack thereof) in city contracts, stands with the LGBT business community on this as stated in a recent letter to the City Council:


“As New York City's Chief Financial Officer, I am charged with ensuring integrity in City contracting, and I believe that the City's procurement system should be a vehicle for economic inclusion...It is imperative that New York City join [other major cities] immediately by requiring the Department of Small Business Services to include LGBT owned business enterprises in its EBE program,” Stringer wrote.


Additionally, the NGLCC and the LGBT business community in New York have the full support of some of the largest corporations and business organizations in the city.  These include Bayer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Comcast, Hilton, JPMorgan Chase & Co., KPMG, The Manhattan Chamber of Commerce (MCC), Merck, The Retail Council of New York, Turner Construction Company, and Verizon.


The LGBT business community of NYC cannot think of a more important issue for SBS to address for our community’s long-term growth than inclusion in city procurement. 2020 must be the year New York is open for business with the LGBT community-- and the rest of the nation is watching. 


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JUSTIN NELSON and CHANCE MITCHELL are Co-Founders of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC). NGLCC is the business voice of the LGBT community, the largest global advocacy organization specifically dedicated to expanding economic opportunities and advancements for LGBT people, and the exclusive certifying body for LGBT-owned businesses.   Nglcc.org @nglcc