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Louisville Metro Could Soon Be More Friendly To LGBT Business Owners

When Louisville Metro requests bids for government contracts, it already makes an effort with women-, minority- and disabled-owned businesses. And soon lawmakers could consider expanding that opportunity to businesses owned and run by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

The Metro Council could soon consider a change to its ordinance that codifies how it solicits bids from minority groups. The proposal, entered this week, seeks to include certified LGBT businesses in its efforts.

Cyndi Masters, the CEO and founder of digital agency DBS Interactive and a member of Louisville's gay and lesbian chamber of commerce, said the change in language is validating. And she said it will be good for the city.

"It’s really smart, it’s really smart," Masters said. "There’s a lot of loyalty from these marginalized communities, so when you include me, I’m pretty loyal to you. Especially if you included me before it was popular."

Right now Louisville dedicates a small percentage of its business spending, which is known as procurement, to companies owned by women, minorities and disabled people. The new ordinance would specifically encourage proposals from LGBT-owned businesses, and would include dedicated outreach to those owners.

Jonathan Lovitz of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, which is the body that certifies LGBT businesses, said they add about $1.7 trillion to the U.S. economy each year. So he said inviting them to the table makes good business sense.

"One of the problems and the reason that supplier diversity programs like this were established was because of the historic biases and discriminatory practices that so many communities felt… too often, the contract went to the golfing buddy of the procurement officer," he said.

Lovitz said more and more cities are codifying efforts to contract with LGBT business owners. Just this year, Los Angeles, Chicago and Tampa have taken this kind of step. He said Louisville doing the same could send a message to the rest of Kentucky.

Although the city is known for its LGBTQ-friendliness, the same is not necessarily true of the state. Case in point: In 2017, the California attorney general banned state-funded travel to Kentucky over a law he said could lead to anti-LGBTQ discrimination.

Lovitz said that if Louisville adopts this ordinance change, it would signal an embrace of America’s diverse economic future. And with Democrat Andy Beshear taking office as governor next month, Lovitz sees more opportunities.

"We are very excited at the NGLCC to work with the new governor, as we have with governors across the country in adding not just LGBT- but disability- and veteran-owned businesses, who are usually the three categories left out of state procurement," he said.

Louisville’s ordinance already covers businesses owned by disabled people, including a goal of spending half a percent of its procurement budget with them. But the ordinance still refers to that group as "handicapped." The proposal filed this week seeks to update that language to say “disabled,” instead.

For business owner Cyndi Masters, who is also disabled, it’s an overdue change.

"Thank God. Thank God," she said. "What an archaic word."

She previously registered her business with the gay and lesbian chamber, as well as Disability:IN, which certifies disabled-owned businesses.

"Handicapped, it just has a negative connotation. It’s a belittling word," she said.

Louisville Metro Councilwoman Jessica Green (D-1) introduced the ordinance this week. She said it’s common sense, and good for Louisville.

"We want to send a message that not only is it the right thing to do, but it is good business practice to be welcome to all businesses, no matter who they’re owned by," she said.

The Community Affairs Committee will most likely consider the ordinance in December, following the Thanksgiving break.

Amina Elahi is LPM's City Editor. Email Amina at aelahi@lpm.org.