Last week, the NGLCC's held its annual Business and Leadership Conference in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. A topic of conversation this year, as it is every year, centered on supplier diversity and how it could help LGBT businesses. It's not the sexiest of fights. It doesn't lend itself well to posters in rallies. But McClure believes it is up there in importance with marriage equality.
Diversity initiatives have been around for more than three decades. They're meant to broaden the range of companies that corporations work with, most often to businesses run by owners of color, by women, and more recently by disabled veterans. Missing from that list, the NGLCC says, are LGBT-owned businesses. Leaving LGBT businesses out of these programs means that private corporations and government-regulated industries don't consider LGBT people to fit the same economic or social disadvantages that these programs seek to level, the NGLCC argues.
"What a shame that I can be married in all 50 states but I can't sell to any of them," says Jonathan D. Lovitz of the NGLCC.
The organization first targeted supplier diversity in 2004 by setting up a program that would certify businesses as LGBT-owned and -operated. Among other requirements, the businesses had to prove that they were 51 percent LGBT-owned and -managed. But certification meant little if no one would acknowledge that LGBT companies should be brought into these diversity initiatives.
Of Fortune 500 companies, only about a third factor LGBT businesses into their diversity initiatives. So in order to make a statement, the NGLCC went after California utilities.
The California Public Utilities Commission is a behemoth. It includes huge telecommunications companies (like AT&T), and huge electric companies (like Pacific Gas & Electric). Within its diversity-initiative program alone, last year California utilities spent $8.5 billion with suppliers. And because it operates as a quasi-government entity, these utility companies fall under state regulation.
A general order already required utility companies that made more than $25 million to set up programs to work with businesses owned by women, disabled veterans, blacks, Latinos, Asians, and Native Americans. The recommendation was that companies purchase 21.5 percent of goods and services through diversity-initiative businesses. But that didn't include LGBT-owned operations.
McClure and NGLCC helped write a bill, the first of its kind, backed by lawmakers, that brought LGBT businesses into the California Public Utilities Commission's diversity initiative. Many of the utility companies even spoke in support of the bill.
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Last year Gov. Jerry Brown signed it into law, making the California Public Utilities Commission one of the first, and largest, government entities to extend such support to LGBT businesses. For business owners like Parrish, that means access he'd normally never have.