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The Equality Act Is Missing One Big Thing

The Equality Act Is Missing One Big Thing


The National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce is fighting to change the proposed LGBT legislation.

Equality without equity is only half a victory. Nondiscrimination wins, like those being sought by the framers of the Equality Act, are essential to ensuring the LGBT community is fully included in the American spirit; but until the 1.4 million LGBT business owners are also given as seat at the table, they're being shut out from the American Dream.

The National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, the business voice of the LGBT community, is proud to see equality in the business world moving forward after the introduction of the Equality Act. However, the absence of protections for certified LGBT business enterprises in contracting and procurement with the government -- alongside protections in employment, housing, credit, and public spaces and services -- is top policy priority for the NGLCC. And it should be a priority for everyone.

Why? Because as Barney Frank once said, "If you're not at the table, you're on the menu." Every year America's corporations, state governments, and all federal agencies spend tens of billions of dollars in procurement contracts for everything from office supplies to jet engine parts. To help give an equal, level playing field to the minorities that have redefined and innovated America's small businesses, those companies and government agencies have instituted supplier diversity programs. Without such programs, new businesses, many of them owned by LGBT citizens, would never be noticed against the legacy businesses that have historically won these contracts. If you're an LGBT business owner and not certified, you're leaving money on the table to help your business grow, which allows you to give back our community as a role model, job creator, and valued success story of an LGBT person achieving the American Dream.

The Equality Act and the state-level bills currently being introduced around the nation highlight many of the inequities that have kept taxpaying, law-abiding LGBT citizens from achieving the American Dream. We hope these bills ignite essential conversations that benefit LGBT business owners, including protection from discrimination in government contracting alongside other diverse-owned businesses.

Currently, only one state agency, California's Public Utilities Commission, and several regional governments -- including Essex County, N.J., and Cleveland -- mandate the intentional inclusion of certified LGBT-owned businesses. Every day our policy team is coordinating with local legislators to create opportunities for LGBT business owners to contract with state governments just like every other small business. National legislation or a presidential executive order is necessary to ensure that every LGBT business owner has the same right to opportunities as everyone else in America.

Just last month we saw some extremely positive momentum on this front. The Democratic Party will be including certified LGBT business enterprises in its contracting pool for the 2016 Democratic convention in Philadelphia. Nothing is more essential to the American Dream than an equal seat at the table, and we're so pleased that the 1.4 million LGBT business owners in America will have an opportunity to contract with the party during this momentous election season. During an election season when the candidates are falling over themselves to alienate and exclude the minority groups who are redefining the working class of America, the Democratic Party is reflecting what corporate America has recognized for decades: When everyone is included, everyone succeeds.

It's gratifying to see the continued rise of popular support nationwide for LGBT protections and inclusion in the wake of the Supreme Court's marriage equality decision, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission equal protections ruling, and other recent victories. The work of our organizational allies, including the Human Rights Campaign, is ensuring that the post-marriage equality momentum continues onward. Even more inspiring is corporate America's continued leadership of diversity and inclusion for LGBT citizens and business owners everywhere.

IBM, a founding partner of the NGLCC and ardent supporter of supplier diversity recently said, "IBM's workplace culture is built on the principles of non-discrimination and equal opportunity for all. We established a corporate policy on equal opportunity more than a decade before the Civil Rights Act. We championed an industry-leading policy of nondiscrimination based on sexual orientation over 30 years ago, and expanded it in 2002 to cover gender identity and expression. IBM is proud to support the Equality Act and maintains our steadfast support for all employees to experience equality in the workplace."

As my cofounder and NGLCC CEO Chance Mitchell regularly points out, "Business will continue to be the catalyst for positive change for America's minorities -- especially the LGBT community. We must keep the millions of LGBT business owners who grow local economies and create jobs in mind when shaping wholesale legislation that creates equal opportunities for everyone."

An equal seat at the table, along with the aims of the Equality Act, will bring the nation in line with a long-held best practice of corporate America: treating every worker and business owner with equal dignity, respect, and opportunity to succeed.

The great work for equality continues, one small business at a time.

JUSTIN NELSON is the cofounder and president of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, the business voice of the LGBT community and the largest global not-for-profit advocacy organization specifically dedicated to expanding economic opportunities and advancements for LGBT people. NGLCC is the exclusive certification body for LGBT-owned businesses.

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