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Posted under: News Politics

Rep. Ritchie Torres Introduces Bill Intended To Protect LGBTQ-Owned Businesses From Discrimination By Financial Institutions

New House Rep. Torres is hoping to help LGBTQ+ businesses by providing more opportunities for investment.

U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres is planning to introduce an amendment to the Equal Credit Opportunity Act that seeks to expand the ability for LGBTQ-owned businesses to access capital and credit, according to NBC News. 

The LGBTQ Business Equal Credit Enforcement and Investment Act will not only force financial institutions to collect data on credit applications submitted by LGBTQ-owned businesses but also protect them from credit discrimination and make sure they have equal access to credit. 

“The logic here is simple: Transparency will strengthen the incentive for the financial community to extend capital to LGBTQ businesses. Wall Street loves to extol the virtues of diversity, but we are asking Wall Street to put its money where its mouth is,” Torres told NBC News. 

”Without the kind of rigorous reporting required by my legislation, we have no enforceable means of holding the financial system accountable for serving the credit needs of LGBTQ enterprises,” he added. 

The current version of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act monitors and protects minority and women-owned small businesses. Torres' amendment would add LGBTQ-owned businesses into the fold.  

Torres, who became the first openly gay Afro Latino in Congress when he won his race in November, worked on the issue as a city councilman in New York City and is hoping to help LGBTQ+ businesses nationally.

A version of the bill was introduced last year by former Rep. Harley Rouda but it failed to gain traction. 

“I partnered with the LGBT Chamber of Commerce to persuade America's largest city to adopt a certification program for LGBTQ enterprises,” Torres told NBC News, noting that his work on the issue in New York City allowed LGBTQ businesses to gain access to more than $25 billion in contracts and benefits that were being offered to businesses owned by minorities and women.

"[It] would essentially make the Equal Credit Opportunity Act LGBTQ inclusive,” he said. 

The COVID-19 pandemic and efforts to stabilize the economy revealed wide disparities in which businesses have access to banking, credit and funding, as Blavity previously reported.

As PPP loans flowed to hundreds of businesses last year, Black and women-owned businesses were largely shut out of any funding due in large part to discrimination by banks, which have longstanding ties to many white-owned businesses. 

Hundreds of Black-owned businesses in the country closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and lackluster efforts to keep them afloat as the economy went into a tailspin. 

Experts told NBC News that LGBTQ+ businesses were similarly shut out of PPP loans and still suffer from a lack of access to financial institutions. 

“For them to succeed, LGBT business owners must have unfettered access to capital and credit, which the data gathered by this act will support. For our national economy to thrive, all business owners from every diverse community must be included, studied, and supported at every level of government as they are in private enterprise,” Justin Nelson, president and co-founder of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, told NBC News in a statement. 

"[The act] will only further help accelerate the work in progress for full federal inclusion of LGBT businesses in government procurement,” Nelson said. 

Torres spoke about the need for more LGBTQ+ protections on the House floor last Thursday as representatives voted on The Equality Act. It passed 224-206 but it often faces opposition in the Senate, which Republicans previously controlled. 

“As a child of The Bronx who grew up in the projects, I was often too scared to come out of the closet, too blinded to see clearly my own value, my own equality. My younger self could not imagine standing on the floor of Congress as a member of Congress voting on legislation that, if enacted, would make me equal in the eyes of the law,” Torres said. 

“In the history of the United States, there have only been a little more than 130 Latinx members of Congress and a little more than 160 Black members of Congress, and none of them were LGBTQ or openly LGBTQ until I was sworn in. So for me to have the opportunity to vote for my own equality was an overwhelming experience,” he noted on the House floor. 

The bill now heads to the Senate where it is unclear what will happen. Democrats now hold a majority of seats but more conservative members of the party have balked at a number of the party's efforts in recent weeks. 

President Joe Biden has vowed to sign the bill once it makes it to his desk, according to NBC News. 

“Public opinion has moved decisively in the direction of LGBTQ equality. I am supremely confident that we will have bicameral, bipartisan support for the Equality Act, whether or not we will have enough support to overcome the filibuster remains to be seen. But we are as close as we've ever been to realizing the vision of equality,” Torres said. 

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