By Marene Gustin
Each year, the federal government sends $100 billion in contracts to small businesses. In response to President Obama’s directive that federal agencies must move toward greater inclusion of historically disenfranchised groups, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) partnered last year with the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC).
Last February, the two agencies signed an agreement creating the LGBT Business Builder program that presents four-hour workshops in multiple cities. LGBT small-business owners attending these events learn how to grow their business through LGBT certification to leverage contracts, secure loans, and connect with multinational companies. The program comes to Houston for the first time this month.
“We are very excited about the Houston market,” says Mark D. Gibson, national LGBT communications director for the SBA.
“Coming on the heels of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) defeat, this is an important opportunity to help the community grow economically,” adds Jonathan D. Lovitz, NGLCC’s vice president of external affairs. “Whether you agree with the community socially or not, you can’t exclude them economically. When we all do better economically, we all do better.”
Gibson stresses that certification as a minority business is “not a handout, but a hand up.”
“It’s not an entitlement,” agrees Lovitz. “It just gives LGBT businesses a seat at the table, and that’s all most of them need. It’s a window to government and business contracting.”
LGBT businesses are the latest group to achieve a “minority” classification with the federal government. However, neither the City of Houston nor the State of Texas recognizes LGBT businesses as minorities. Although Massachusetts became the first state to recognize LGBT certification in 2015, it’s unlikely Texas will follow suit any time soon.
So why should local businesses attain this certification? Well, more than one-third of Fortune 500 companies are interested in working with LGBT employers (LGBTEs). And one of the biggest opportunities for nationally certified LGBT businesses in Houston is right around the corner.
For the first time, the NFL is expanding its Super Bowl contracting opportunities to LGBTEs. “This year, there are 70 LGBT businesses in the Bay Area vying for Super Bowl 50 contracts,” says Lovitz. That includes everything from event planning to office supplies. And guess what’s coming to Houston next February? That’s right: Super Bowl 51.
“The Super Bowl will be a great opportunity for the Houston community,” says Gibson.
Chef/owner Greg Martin says he’s very interested in the certification. “When [my husband] Paul and I started Bistro Menil, we went to the Small Business Administration for a loan,” he says. “Not only were they very helpful in securing the money to start the bistro, they were also the ones who encouraged us to get married, even though the state didn’t recognize same-sex marriage at the time. That’s how supportive they were.” Martin notes the disparity between the federal and local governments in dealing with the LGBT community. In Houston, the dismal defeat of HERO is a case in point.
Currently, there are only a handful of Houston companies—including OutSmart magazine—with the NGLCC LGBT certification. Tammi Wallace’s consulting firm, EnFocus Strategies, is also certified.
“I read an article about it last year when they started it,” Wallace says. “It was the first time I had heard about it, and I thought it was wonderful that there was such a strong organization in Washington working for us.”
Wallace, who already had her minority certification with the city and state as a woman-owned business, set out to get her NGLCC certification. It only took her about 90 days. There is a fee, but if you are a member of an LGBT chamber recognized by the NGLCC, that gets waived. Both Austin and Dallas have LGBT chambers, and now Wallace and Gary Wood, COO of United Global Solutions, LLC, are working hard to create a Houston chamber.
“I think when more businesses find out about the chamber, it will really take off,” she says. “It will be a real win-win for LGBT businesses to partner with large companies with diversity programs who are looking to partner with them. The chamber and the federal certification will be a way to find them.”
Wood’s company is also an LGBT-certified business. When he first heard about the program, he admits that the certification process seemed a little daunting. “It was a lot of paperwork,” he says. “But it was worth it. I was really impressed with the NGLCC and their work toward economic equality for the community.
“Houston’s LGBT community is one of the most diverse communities, and to have a local chamber that drives the B2B [business-to-business] side—and that supports us with advocacy and education—will be huge.”
Wood says the local chamber of commerce will be up and running before the workshop this month. LGBT small businesses interested in joining can attend the workshop or contact him or Wallace directly through their
The LGBT Business Builder four-hour Houston workshop is free and open to the public. Reservations can be made on the NGLCC website. The event includes speakers from both the SBA and the NGLCC. Besides LGBT small-business owners, local business leaders and supplier-diversity and procurement professionals are encouraged to attend. The SBA is planning for 100 to 200 participants.
“This is all about leveraging opportunities,” says Lovitz. And building community.
What: LGBT Business Builder workshop
When: February 24, 2–6 p.m.
Where: Houston Community College Galleria Campus
Details and reservations: nglcc.org/events/lgbt-business-builder-houston
Marene Gustin is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.