Bills to codify rights for LGBTQ+ businesses are reintroduced by Pou, Wimberly

Group, which currently benefits from executive order, is worried opportunities could be taken away in future

LGBTQ+ certified companies in New Jersey are eligible to receive set-aside grants and awards to grow their business, similar to ones offered women-, minority- and veteran-owned businesses, thanks to Executive Order 295, which Gov. Phil Murphy signed last April.

The ability is hugely important, as it gives LGBTQ+ companies the ability to compete for public contracts that include specific set-asides for these groups in an effort to expand contractor and venue diversity.

Sen. Nellie Pou. (Photos courtesy N.J. Legislature)

But, unlike the other groups of the so-called MWBE programs, this ability is not guaranteed. Because it came in the form of an executive order, it easily can be taken away through the executive order of another governor.

A bill sponsored by state Sen. Nellie Pou (D-Paterson) and Assemblyman Benji Wimberly (D-Paterson) would change that.

The bill, which failed to make the voting floor last session, was reintroduced this week as A3330/S1313.

Pou, chair of the Senate Commerce Committee and prime sponsor of the bill, is hopeful that it will gain traction this session. Its impact, she said, is important.

“Businesses owned in whole or in part by LGBTQ+ individuals touch all aspects of the economy and society and add to the diversity that is part of our shared social identity,” she said.

“This legislation reaffirms the vital role these businesses play in our state’s overall growth and makes sure they are given every chance to succeed in what is still a very challenging economic climate.”

If passed, New Jersey would be the first state in the country to codify such rights for LGBTQ+ businesses.

Gus Penaranda, the executive director of the New Jersey Pride Chamber of Commerce, said the importance of the bill cannot be overstated.

“We’re already seeing its impact,” he said. “This order does not come with any guarantees, but it does ensure LGBTQ+ companies have more opportunities.

“It puts all of these businesses in a better position to think about hiring more employees and growing their businesses in New Jersey.”

And, while the executive order was worthy of celebration, codifying the right is more important than ever, since there are movements around the country to roll back benefits given to such communities, Penaranda said.

“We do not want to go backward,” he said.

Asm. Benjie Wimberly.

Since the executive order, membership in the Pride chamber has exploded, from fewer than 100 to well over 300.

Codifying the right could have an additional positive effect — drawing even more businesses to the state, Penaranda said.

“Because of everything that’s going on across this country, New Jersey would become a beacon for new businesses, entrepreneurs and money,” he said. “The money that follows LGBTQ-owned businesses or companies that support or partner with them will then be drawn to New Jersey, because we will be the first in the country with such a law.”

As is always the case, it is unclear if Murphy would sign the bills should they reach his desk. Last April, however, he was very supportive of the idea when he signed his executive order.

“These certifications will support the LGBTQ+ community by enhancing economic opportunities while providing them with a stronger foothold that allows for authenticity and visibility for their businesses,” he said at that time.

“In New Jersey, we wear our diversity as a badge of honor, and this certification furthers our commitment to the LGBTQ+ community by supporting them in their entrepreneurial endeavors.”