ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — St. Petersburg City council voted yes Thursday on a plan aimed to increase the number of LGBTQ-owned businesses the city contracts with for goods and services.
Currently, St. Pete keeps tabs on how many minority-owned and female-owned businesses they partner with. Now, they will add a third category to the Small Business Enterprise Program: businesses owned by gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer individuals.
The idea is to boost historically underrepresented business owners, by giving them equal opportunities to compete and succeed, as well as increase the diversity of supplier options.
That means if the city has 10 contracts before them, they won't necessarily need to choose a company that's run by a minority, woman or LGBTQ owner, but it will help those groups receive training to be considered for lucrative city contracts.
LGBTQ-owned small businesses will now be eligible for training programs and services to help them familiarize themselves with how to do business with the city. They will also be alerted to available opportunities.
Yet, not everyone is satisfied with the city's decision. Maria Scruggs, the St. Petersburg NAACP President, asked the city for data showing how the LGBTQ community has been disenfranchised as business owners. She questions if the group needs the same boost as minority-owned companies which she says continue to struggle in the city.
Scruggs says the city's African American owned businesses continue to be marginalized and aren't always given enough tools to succeed.
“I thought LGBTQ businesses were doing well," Scruggs said. “We have a very strong physical presence of LGBTQ businesses on Central as well as in the Warehouse arts district. You can’t say that for African American owned businesses.”
Council-member Gina Driscoll brought the idea to city council after reading about similar initiatives in Orlando.
LGBTQ businesses must be 51% owned, operated and controlled by LGBTQ individuals to qualify.
Jim Nixon, St. Pete's LGBTQ liaison says it isn't about pinning minority-owned businesses against LGBTQ owned businesses.
"We want to give all historically-underrepresented business owners an equal opportunity to compete and succeed,” he explained.
Andrew Citino, the owner of 6S Boutique on Central Avenue supports the idea. Citino says after moving all around the country, one thing keeps him in St. Pete: Equality.
“Diversity is everything and our city has it,” Citino said with a smile. “Which is very important to me as a transgender man."
Citino says it's important to feel included. "Now we feel like we are counted and we are equal.”