Out gay Bronx Councilmember Ritchie Torres on February 28 summed up the urgent need to address the city’s lack of resources for LGBTQ-owned businesses when he said, “A wise person once said that if you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re probably on the menu.”
Torres, flanked by business owners and the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) at the steps of City Hall on a cold but sunny morning, announced new legislation that would require the city’s Department of Small Business Services to certify LGBTQ-owned businesses and publish a directory of those businesses. The bill would place businesses in better position to compete for city contracts.
Additionally, the city would also facilitate educational programs for certified LGBTQ-owned businesses to bolster their participation in city procurement and inform contractors of opportunities to partner or subcontract with those businesses.
“Even though the LGBTQ community creates immense economic activity for NYC, and the city is known as a bastion of LGBTQ equality, there’s no certification that recognizes LGBTQ businesses as part of the diversity of the marketplace,” Torres said. “There are corporations looking for greater LGBTQ diversity in their contracting, and there are LGBTQ businesses looking for more opportunities. A certification would be a way to bridge the gap.”
Torres noted that New York City is currently “being outhustled by Nashville, Tennessee” and several other cities around the country that have already launched the same kinds of programs for LGBTQ-owned businesses. However, New York City would become the nation’s largest city to pass such a law.
The bill represents the city’s first foray into an effort to boost LGBTQ-owned businesses on the heels of similar, but more established existing programs that already help minority and women-owned businesses. Torres said the Department of Small Business Services would hold the power to decide which businesses should participate.
Mitch Lippman, who assists individuals and businesses by providing consulting, coaching, and trainings through his company, the Mitch-Lippman Group, said he works with several women and minorities who already receive the same kind of assistance — and he feels that it’s time for LGBTQ folks to get the same kind of help.
“We’d like to be able to compete fairly in the marketplace and to sit next to our brothers and sisters that have minority-owned and women-owned businesses,” Lippman said. “We’ve been left out of the equation even though we are a big part of the equation.”
The NGLCC, which has helped pass similar legislation elsewhere and stands up for LGBTQ business owners, praised local lawmakers for aiming to bring the city in line with other areas in the United States that have already worked to stimulate economic development in the community.
“This city already has a mechanism in place to help other diverse communities,” said Jonathan D. Lovitz, Senior Vice President of NGLCC. “If you include them, why not include us? Because LGBT people are a part of every other diverse community in this city and they deserve that fair shot. It’s the tax revenue of LGBT people like you see behind me who help pay for the $15 billion-plus in contracts that city awards — and all they’re asking for is the fair shot they deserve.”
Cosponsors of the bill include out gay Councilmembers Daniel Dromm and Jimmy Van Bramer of Queens and Carlos Menchaca of Brooklyn, as well as Councilmembers Diana Ayala and Mark Levine of Manhattan. The legislation would become law six months after it passes unless the Commissioner of Small Business Services, Gregg Bishop, calls for it to be implemented sooner.
Another bill introduced on February 28, sponsored by Dromm, Torres, and Levine, calls for the Department of Small Business Services to conduct a study determining whether LGBTQ-owned businesses face difficulties in the city’s procurement process.