New Jersey is the fourth state to adopt state-backed certification
Governor Phil Murphy signed an executive order that will establish a state-backed program to certify LGBTQ-owned businesses. New Jersey will join California, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania as the fourth state to adopt such a designation. With the executive order, Murphy is making good on his 2021 campaign promise to improve the lives of LGBTQ New Jerseyans.
Starting immediately, the New Jersey Department of the Treasury, led by Elizabeth Maher Muoio, is setting to work to establish free certification for LGBTQ-owned businesses. Business owners from the LGBTQ community will be able receive state-backed certification and associated benefits.
“The public sector is finally catching up with the private sector,” Jonathan Lovitz of the National LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce told Out In Jersey. “This has been corporate best practices for years.” In 2016, the Human Rights Campaign added LGBTQ+ supplier diversity as a stand-alone criterion to its Corporate Equality Index, encouraging corporations to seek out LGBTQ-owned businesses to rank higher on that scale, Lovitz explained. LGBTQ business owners will be able to proudly display their certification.
The historic signing took place inside Union Coffee in Lambertville. “There are a lot of LGBTQ business owners in town,” said Mayor Andrew Nowick during the event. “I can name seven or eight right off the top of my head.” Union Coffee’s owner, Carolyn Gadbois, a lesbian, opened her café last year on 49 North Union Street. She said that one of her first purchases was the Pride flag. She acknowledged all the LGBTQ activists and business owners before her, who have turned Lambertville into an accepting city, where she can fly the Pride flag without fear of reprisal.
At Union Coffee, Governor Murphy, Mayor Nowick, Lovitz, and Gadbois were joined for a round-table discussion by State Treasurer Liz Muoio, Garden State Equality Executive Director Christian Fuscarino, and Stephen Blazejewski and Augusto “Gus” Penaranda Jr. of the New Jersey Pride Chamber of Commerce. “I feel like I’m on Meet the Press,” joked Murphy, sipping from a ginger turmeric tea. “In a few minutes, we’re going to do something pretty special, which is to establish through executive order a designation [for] LGBTQIA+-owned [businesses] just as you would for a minority-, a women-owned, a veteran-owned establishment,” he said. “It’s probably about time, but we’re getting there. This is a big step for us.”
“Equality is good for business, and it’s the right thing to do for the people who live there,” Lovitz said. He cited the examples of Nashville, Houston, and Louisville (KY), which had adopted similar LGBTQ-owned business certification programs. “Many LGBTQ people are women, people of color, veterans, immigrants, and so every single community is going to rise because of this.”
This is bigger than business, suggested Fuscarino. “Despite living in a state like New Jersey with Governor Murphy and an administration that have positioned us to be number one on a lot of LGBTQ issues, LGBTQ people still face great disparities. Trans women of color represent the highest rates of unemployment. LGBTQ youth represent the highest youth population of homeless youth and are also the highest population bullied in schools. We see disparities in the workplace all across the country. We can have all the laws on the books, but if people aren’t experiencing lived equality because of disparities, then we aren’t doing our job. This is a step forward.
“What’s important to note is it’s not politically convenient to [sign an executive order] like this,” said Fuscarino. “We’ve seen the last several weeks some really ugly language being used by anti-LGBTQ groups. We have well-funded, well-organized campaigns working against our community and, despite that, we have the governor of New Jersey signing an executive order and standing with the LGBTQ community.”
“These days you need courage,” said Governor Murphy. “I will tell you something. When there is an effort in our country to pit us versus them, it is invariably [against] women, people of color, the LGBTQIA+ community — or where they all intersect — and you’ve seen it: this ridiculous political opportunism on the health and sex education curriculum that was approved a couple years ago. Some people are using this as a political cheap shot to divide us, to vilify communities. We will not relent. We will have courage — all of us.”
After the event, Gadbois spoke about Union Coffee, her employees and LGBTQ activism. “I’ve worked hard in my life to be honest and true as a lesbian, a business owner and as a boss, as a woman, and a human being, and I feel so lucky to have such an incredible team who identify in all different ways and fall on all lines of the spectrum.”
She reflected on the meaning of this LGBTQ certification for non-business owners: “People use their money to support businesses in line with their ideals, which is the most important power we have as consumers. We will be able to put our money where our mouths are. That’s a power, and people can use it for good.”