Baker extends state contractor preferences to gays, lesbians

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BOSTON – Gov. Charlie Baker signed an executive order Tuesday that allows gay and lesbian business owners to receive preferential treatment when competing for contracts to supply Massachusetts agencies with goods and services.

The order adds three categories of business owners to the list of suppliers that qualify for government set-asides. Those additions include one for firms whose owners are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, another for all veteran-owned businesses and one for owners with disabilities, according to a statement from the governor’s office. Until now, only businesses owned by women, minorities, or veterans disabled in service qualified for the government preference.

“We are committed to ensuring diversity as the state engages business suppliers and contractors and are excited about this opportunity to include LGBT, disability and veteran business owners in the state’s network and procurement chain,” Baker said in the statement. Before set asides for the new categories can be established, a two- to three-year period of capacity building is needed, according to the governor’s office.

Baker also ordered increases in set asides for firms owned by women to 13 percent from 12 percent and for those owned by minorities, to 7 percent from 6 percent. In fiscal 2014, certified small businesses as well as firms owned by women and minorities received contracts under the supplier diversity program valued at about $992 million in state funds, according to its website.

Expanding the preference categories ultimately will lead to set asides for businesses that meet certification standards set by various organizations, including the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and, for those with disabilities, the U.S. Business Leadership Network. With the move, the state becomes the first in the U.S. to work with the chamber group to certify firms.

“LGBT-inclusive supplier diversity means that there will be greater LGBT business visibility across Massachusetts,” Justin Nelson, the president and co-founder of the chamber, said in the statement from Baker’s office.Economic visibility, just like social visibility, is essential in building a diverse and inclusive society.”

Also, the order increases the set aside for certified small businesses to 3 percent from 2.5 percent.