New York City and State are known for some of the strongest human rights laws in the country — though transgender rights have only been protected statewide since late last year when Governor Andrew Cuomo employed executive action to overcome the State Senate’s long resistance on that score.
But City Comptroller Scott Stringer, in a review of both city and state laws, found that government agencies themselves — at both levels — are not prohibited from discriminating in their choice of companies bidding on providing services for government, even though the contractors selected are barred from discriminating as employers.
Stringer is proposing bills that will ensure “everyone has an equal opportunity to bid on government contracts.” Out gay City Councilmember Ritchie Torres of the Bronx and his Brooklyn colleague Robert Cornegy will introduce one in the Council and out gay Manhattan State Senator Brad Hoylman and Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte of Brooklyn will file bills in Albany.
Stringer did not involve the Cuomo or de Blasio administrations in his September 16 press conference on the matter on the steps of City Hall. Gay City News reached out to the mayor and the governor’s offices with questions about whether they considered this form of discrimination already illegal and, if not, whether executive orders could take care of it pending the passage of legislation.
Frank Sobrino, the governor’s deputy director of communications for New York City, responded in an email that “under existing state law, it is already unlawful for any person to refuse to buy from, sell, or trade with or otherwise discriminate against any person because of race, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, and disability among other classifications.”
Stringer, however, contends that neither the city nor the state is specifically bound by any existing human rights law not to discriminate in contracting and procurement.
Raul Contreras, assistant press secretary to the mayor, wrote in an email, “We look forward to seeing the Comptroller’s proposal and will review it carefully. This Administration is committed to protecting minority and women-owned businesses from discrimination.”
In a city where more than half the population are women and more than half people of color, Stringer lamented that just 5.3 percent of $14 billion in government contracts are going to women- and minority-owned businesses.
The state is doing better. Sobrino wrote that “under Governor Cuomo’s leadership, there has been a dramatic increase in the participation of minority- and women-owned businesses in state contracting from 10 percent in 2011 to more than 20 percent over the past several years. The Governor has set a new goal of 30 percent for MWBE firms, which the state is on track to meeting.”
There is no city or state data on how many contractors to government agencies are LGBT-owned businesses.
Hoylman introduced the Supplier Diversity Act in May with the support of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce to ensure “equal access to contracting opportunities for certified LGBT-, disability-, and veteran-owned small businesses.”
New York State has more than 50,000 contracts worth $240 billion, according to the Chamber.