In the wake of recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings on gay marriage, several related legal and political questions have suddenly surfaced. One of those revolves around the decades-old program that gives a leg up to small minority- and women-owned businesses seeking to sell goods and services to the federal government.
Gay and lesbian business groups want to alter the federal 8(a) program, run by the Small Business Administration, so that LGBT-owned firms can participate. The program now is reserved for small businesses owned and controlled by members of groups presumed to be “socially and economically disadvantaged.”
For the most part, those groups are racial and ethnic minorities – Americans of African, Hispanic and Asian heritage, as well as Native Americans. But LGBT advocates say it’s time to include business owners who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender in that mix.
“Marriage equality’s wins recently should not be viewed as the final frontier for LGBT inclusion but rather the next hill in a much longer marathon for equality,” said Jason Holstein, managing director of the San Francisco-based Golden Gate Business Association, the nation’s oldest LGBT chamber of commerce.
Despite gaining the right to marry in 13 states and the District of Columbia, LGBT business owners seeking government or private contracts can still be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, Holstein said. Amending the 8(a) program would help curb some of that. “It’s about creating a supply chain … that is reflective of the diversity in the workplace and of the tax-paying citizens across this country,” he added.
Congressional action would be required to accomplish what Holstein and others are advocating. But as of yet, there are no proposals, and were one to surface, it likely would face substantial political headwinds.
But that’s not stopping the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, which for several years has privately certified businesses as LGBT-owned and connects them with more than 12 dozen corporate partners seeking to diversify their contractor base.
More than 500 LGBT-run firms have been approved so far, in a process not unlike that of the National Minority Supplier Development Council, Inc., to certify firms owned by ethnic and racial minorities for the 8(a) program, and the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council to verify women-owned companies.
Certification is crucial, said Sam McClure, the NGLCC’s director of affiliate relations and external affairs. It’s “all about getting those doors open so that the business owner can get in there and pitch what they have. So yeah, I’d call that a huge leg up,” she said.
The NGLCC also inked a pact with the U.S. Department of Commerce that allowed LGBT businesses to attend a procurement fair and explore export possibilities in South America, McClure said. A similar agreement is pending with the Department of Labor.
Some may view efforts to change the 8(a) program on behalf of LGBT businesses as diminishing a finite federal contracting pie already fought over by firms run by racial and ethnic minorities, women, the disabled and veterans — all of whom benefit from various contracting assistance programs. But McClure insisted that’s the wrong way to approach the subject.
For one, some owners of LGBT firms are racial or ethnic minorities, or are women. “We’re the one diverse community that includes every other,” she noted. Further, she resists notions that the competition for federal contracts is a zero-sum game. “This is a strong economy where the more opportunities we put out there for the more businesses, the more everyone succeeds,” McClure added.
Neither the National Minority Supplier Development Council nor the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council responded to requests for comment.
Herbert A. Sample is a freelance writer based in Berkeley, CA. He can be reached at HASample@mac.com.