New York City Gives LGBTQ-Owned Businesses Access to Contracts

Then-Councilmember Ritchie Torres speaking in 2019 about his proposed bill to bolster LGBTQ-owned businesses in New York City.
Matt Tracy

It looks like LGBTQ-owned small businesses will get a seat at the table in New York City.

The Department of Small Business Services (SBS) will start giving queer-owned small enterprises access to city contracts, educational programs, and other benefits, according to the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC). The move comes nearly two years after then-City Councilmember Ritchie Torres stood at the steps of City Hall on a freezing February day and first introduced a bill requiring the agency to certify LGBTQ-owned businesses.

While that bill never moved forward, SBS is nonetheless moving ahead on its own.

The agency and the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) reached an agreement that laid the groundwork for the new policy, which intends to bring LGBTQ-driven enterprises in line with the city’s program for minority-owned and women-owned business enterprises (MWBE).

Queer-owned small businesses will also be able to receive business mentorships, training, business matchmaker meetings, and access to capital, according to the NGLCC, which spent years advocating for certification of LGBTQ-owned businesses in the city. In total, billions of dollars in city contracts are opening up for queer business owners, NGLCC noted.

The city is joining a growing list of cities and states that have moved to incorporate LGBTQ-owned businesses in city contracts, including Hoboken, New Jersey; Baltimore, Maryland; and Orlando, Florida.

It is not immediately clear whether the new policy is fully aligned with the legislation that stalled in the City Council, though it appears to be similar in scope and an NGLCC spokesperson told Gay City News that legislation is now “moot.” Under that legislation, SBS would have been required to publish a directory of certified LGBTQ-owned businesses and provide business owners with education and resources.

When that bill was proposed in 2019, out gay City Council Speaker Corey Johnson raised concerns about whether the city even had the authority to assist such businesses outside of just certifying them. Johnson told Gay City News at the time that while LGBTQ-owned business owners could “celebrate and advertise their LGBTQ-ownership status,” state law “currently does not authorize the city to give any preferential contracting services to these businesses, so it is unclear what benefit certification would have.”

The bill would not have offered advantages for scoring city contracts, but it could have led to disparity studies, which are typically carried out to justify the need for MBWE programs. Out gay City Councilmember Daniel Dromm of Queens had proposed a related bill calling for such a disparity study.

An SBS spokesperson told Gay City News that the partnership with NGLCC is intended “to connect LGBTEs with existing NYC certification programs” and stressed that “this is an efficient route to increasing participation of these firms in city contracting and reflects the intersectionality of the LGBTE & M/WBE communities, in particular.”

Mitch Lippman of the Mitch-Lippman Group stood with his sign at City Hall back in 2019.Matt Tracy

In a separate written statement, the head of SBS celebrated the new policy change.

“Equity of access and inclusion are at the core of the work we do at SBS,” SBS Commissioner Jonnel Doris said in a written statement. “A diverse vendor pool makes a stronger New York City, and we are excited to maximize the inclusion of LGBTQ certified firms into the City’s certification process. We look forward to our continued partnership with the NGLCC.”

Dromm, a key backer of the effort to bolster queer-owned businesses, also praised the new policy and hailed it as an “historic agreement.”

“When it comes to establishing and growing businesses, LGBTQ entrepreneurs face many significant and manifold challenges,” Dromm added. “I am pleased that these business owners who were once excluded from sorely-needed contracting and procurement opportunities will be able to participate. I have worked alongside Congressmember Ritchie Torres and the NGLCC to sound the alarm and raise awareness of this effort, which is ultimately about fairness and equity.”

He added, “Thank you to SBS for stepping up and agreeing to this partnership. It will impact the lives of thousands of New Yorkers in a meaningful and lasting way.”

NGLCC co-founder and president Justin Nelson thanked Mayor Bill de Blasio and SBS for giving queer entrepreneurs a boost.

“New York City has a legacy of leadership in promoting inclusivity at every level of public life,” Nelson said in a written statement. “Now, history has been made here in New York City, and this victory for inclusivity has once again proved our core values that ‘diversity is good for business’ and that ‘if you can buy it, a certified LGBT-owned business can supply it.’ We are excited to see LGBTBEs in every field, from construction to catering and everything in between, help grow the economy of New York City and beyond as M/WBEs and EBEs.”

Because queer people of color and lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women are able to utilize existing programs, the LGBTQ-specific certification would likely be more beneficial for white gay men, non-binary individuals, and transgender men.

Speaking to Gay City News in 2019, Torres, who has since been elected to Congress, dismissed any concerns that LGBTQ business owners would interfere with existing contracts for women-owned and minority-owned businesses.

“We’re in a business where people are conditioned to have a fear about everything,” Torres said. “Ultimately this is a fear that is unfounded. There is not a single example of LGBT certification eroding a traditional MWBE program. Not a single one.”

According to NGLCC, application information for the new program will be forthcoming in “early 2021.”

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