May 11, 2018 at 11:40 am EST | by Chris Johnson
House Dems demand answers on LGBT removal from SBA website

From left, Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) are concerned about the LGBT removal from the SBA website. (Photos public domain)

Two House Democrats are demanding answers from the U.S. Small Business Administration over the continued omission of LGBT material from the agency’s website more than a year after the pages were removed.

In a letter dated May 9, Reps. Nydia Velazquez and Yvette Clarke — lawmakers from New York who serve on the House Committee for Small Business — requested information from Administrator Linda McMahon on the “disconcerting change” of the LGBT omission at the start of the Trump administration.

“It has now been over a year since those resources were taken down,” the letter says. “Other pages that were also under construction are already up and running. This is deeply troubling and renews our concern that this page’s removal may have been politically or ideologically motivated, rather than simply administrative.”

As first reported by the Washington Blade in January 2017, the SBA at the start of the Trump administration removed from its website pages created during the Obama years dedicated to LGBT-owned small businesses and entrepreneurs. At the time, an SBA spokesperson said the website was under construction and new information would be added, but was non-committal on whether the LGBT pages would be restored.

The webpage for LGBT outreach previously contained quotes and photos from Obama administration officials, which would be unusual for the Small Business Administration to maintain after the change of leadership in the Trump administration.

The removal of the LGBT material was consistent at the time with the removal of LGBT information from other federal government websites under the Trump administration, including the White House website. Officials attributed the LGBT omission to relaunching the websites from scratch, but the LGBT information hasn’t been restored in a major way.

A Google search of the phrase “LGBT” for the Small Business Administration website on Friday reveals a page dedicated to LGBT businesses, but that page has no information and instead a note promising an update.

“SBA is currently updating programmatic information on SBA.Gov,” the note says. “During the update, some pages are not available. The process is expected to be complete in the near future.”

According to the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, only 964 small businesses in the United States are LGBT Business Enterprises, but they contribute more than $1.1 billion to the U.S. economy and have an average of $2.45 million in revenue each year — which is almost triple that of other firms. LGBT businesses in total make an estimated $2 trillion in contributions to the U.S. economy.

After advancements the SBA made during the Obama years — such as highlighting an LGBT-owned business during Small Business Week — Velazquez and Clarke write the continued omission of the LGBT pages from the SBA website “suggests the agency may be reversing this progress.”

The lawmakers submitted six questions for the SBA to answer and imposed a deadline of May 22 for responses:

1. Why were these pages originally removed? Was the SBA instructed by White House staff, the Office of Management & Budget or other Trump administration officials to remove the LGBT Outreach & Certification pages? Please provide any correspondence between the SBA and OMB and the White House related to the pages, the decision to remove them and why they have not yet been replaced.
2. When will the outreach be replaced and will it contain useful information and resources to address the needs of LGBT small businesses?
3. It appears that pages targeting resources to minority, women and veteran business owners remained intact on the agency’s page. Is there a reason that the web pages for LGBT-owned businesses were targeted for removal, while these other pages were left intact?
4. Will the LGBT Certification page be restored to provide materials and information related to SBA’s partnership with LGBT-owned businesses?
5. Is the SBA continuing to partner with the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce to provide strategic outreach to LGBT business owners?
6. Will the agency commit to continuing to engage with LGBT businesses?

Echoing the lawmakers in calling for the restoration of the LGBT information were Justin Nelson and Chance Mitchell, co-founders of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce.

“The $1.7 trillion dollar economic impact of the nation’s estimated 1.4 million LGBT businesses on the GDP knows no political ideology,” Nelson and Mitchell said in a joint statement. “The National LGBT Chamber of Commerce hopes to see the resources and information that benefit job creating, revenue-generating LGBT business owners return to the SBA website soon. Our economy only works if everyone is represented and included, and so we expect the SBA of the current administration to embrace what the private sector and many public sector leaders have known for decades: diversity and inclusion are good for business.”

The Blade has placed a request seeking comment on the letter from Velazquez and Clarke in with the Small Business Administration.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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