Why opening verification portal is huge help for LGBTQ+ businesses — and just the 1st step

Pride Chamber’s Penaranda: We’re now recognized as part of state's business community

Gus Penaranda, the executive director of the New Jersey Pride Chamber of Commerce, obviously was thrilled last week when the state opened a portal that will allow companies to be certified as LGBTQ+ businesses — a certification that will greatly increase the ability of those businesses to thrive.

And, while Penaranda said the portal represents a culmination of a seven-year effort — one that far predates his involvement at the chamber — he said it is just another step in the community’s quest for equal rights and access in the business world.

“It literally puts the LGBTQ+ business community in the same room as all the other MWBE (minority- and/or women-owned business enterprises) in the state of New Jersey,” he said. “We’re now in the room. The next step would be getting a seat at the table, but at least we’re in the room.

“We’re now recognized as a part of the state’s business community.”

The portal was established as a result of Executive Order 295, which was signed last May.

Here’s what being on the portal means:

Gus Penaranda. (File photo)

Once an LGBTQ+ business has obtained certification, its contact information will be posted to a public database called Selective Assistance Vendor Information, which is available for use by all contracting authorities.

Any business wishing to do business with an LGBTQ+ business now has a verified list of companies it can select from.

Here’s what this doesn’t mean:

LGBTQ+ companies are not part of any set-asides (that is, they don’t count on contracts that require a certain percentage of business be given to a minority group, whether it be a business owned by people of color, veterans, handicapped people or women).

That’s the part about being in the room, but not at the table.

And, for now, Penaranda said that’s OK.

“We know there are companies that, on their own, won’t to do business with LGBTQ+ businesses as part of their own personal values,” he said. “Without a certification process, they had no way of knowing if they were doing so.”

That’s why the portal is such a big deal — but why the asks will keep coming.

The reality is, LGBTQ+ issues are still tough, especially with the next gubernatorial race coming soon.

Penaranda and the Pride Chamber know they have support in the Legislature.

Senate bill S3460, co-sponsored by Sens. Nellie Pou (D-Paterson) and Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark), and Assembly bill A5280, sponsored by Assemblymen Benjie Wimberly (D-Paterson) and Sterley Stanley (D-East Brunswick) would work to codify the rights given in the executive order.

Then, there’s the effort to make LGBTQ+ companies part of the set-asides. That’s the seven-year effort.

Penaranda said current Pride Chamber President Steven Garibell, former chamber President Stephen Blazejewski and Jonathan Lovitz (of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce) have led that fight.

They are the ones who deserve the credit for getting the state to where it is now, Penaranda said.

Here’s where it is: New Jersey is a state that is ready to interact with LGBTQ+ businesses more than ever before.

Penaranda said the Pride Chamber is approaching 300 members, a figure the portal is helping to increase — and a figure that is far above the 100 or so members the chamber had at the start of 2022.

“The portal is huge for business,” he said. “It acknowledges that we exist. So, contractors, caterers, medical personnel, whatever you’re looking for, are now part of the state list.

“Now, we’ll be able to participate in some of these municipal, state and, in some cases, federal projects that are in the state in a given year. That’s huge.”