The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District's ( MWRD's ) Committee on Affirmative Action held an informational study session on LGBT procurement goals and other pending issues Feb. 6 at MWRD's headquarters.
MWRD Vice President Barbara J. McGowan presided over the packed proceedings, which included a presentation by attorney/consultant Colette Holt. All nine commissionersMWRD President Kari K. Steele, McGowan, Frank Avila, Cameron Davis, Kimberly Neely Du Buclet, Marcelino Garcia, Josina Morita, Debra Shore and Mariyana T. Spyropouloswere in attendance. ( Shore and Garcia are members of the LGBTQ community. )
The meeting was the result of six months of work by Garcia and Shore to have LGBT-owned companies added under the minority-owned umbrella for district contract considerations.
In terms of LGBT programs, Holt said there is a disagreement over what the legal standards of classification are. She said this has been complicated due to the fact that the Obama administration viewed sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination as sex discrimination whereas the Trump administration disagrees. Holt added that there is a pending U.S. Supreme Court Title VII case that deals with this very question.
Holt outlined the kinds of certification issues LGBT-owned companies will have to grapple with, including what type of proof they will have to provide, especially for transgender people, and the equal-protection issues since people of color have to provide proof of their race to qualify.
As for data-collection issues, Holt said that to do any type of disparity analysis, information has to be gathered regarding people's sexual orientation and/or gender identities on vendor applications, bidders lists and other documentsan issue he said concerns agencies across the country.
Morita asked how MWRD and other agencies verify a person's race or sex. Holt said it could be their birth certificate or driver's license, among other documentation.
Shore asked Holt if, in her opinion, there are any initiatives at other agencies or municipalities that are exemplars in the effort to increase participation, outreach and data collection for all minority communities and women to which Holt said no.
Garcia said LGBT-procurement goals are very important to him because "discrimination is discrimination." He added that if one minority group is targeted for discrimination, others will be, as well.
"In places where people are free to be who they are, they should be leaders in making sure people feel welcome and protections are extended to them," said Garcia, who added that one organization that is at the forefront of this issue is the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce.
During public comments one audience member, construction company owner Tamika Holt, took issue with the LGBT-procurement focus of the meeting, saying Black people are last on 16 economic indicators and still face discrimination.
Taj Development Company Inc. CEO Roxanna Daniel countered what Holt said, stating that, as a Black lesbian, she is especially discriminated against by Black firms because of her sexual orientation. She said the best way to figure out how to proceed with these LGBT-procurement goals is to go to places where that community gathers and get feedback. Daniel also offered her services to MWRD.
LGBT Chamber of Commerce of Illinois Director Jerome' Holston spoke about the work the chamber has done to certify LGBT-owned businesses over the years and that there have been no issues with their verification process. He added that the LGBTCC looked forward to partnering with MWRD in this effort.
Sustainable Systems LLC Environmental Engineer and Managing Member Sharon Waller offered some solutions that she said would benefit all disadvantaged communities, such as using electronic-procurement forms that would also be ecologically sound, giving out smaller contracts and utilizing a mentoring program.
Garcia spoke about the MWRD Affirmative Action Ordinance Draft Appendix O that he has been working on with Shore to expand opportunities to engage all groups where discrimination is prohibited by district statutes, including LGBT people.
The ordinance's purpose is "to encourage participation in MWRD prime contracts and associated subcontractincluding, but not limited to, contracts and subcontracts for construction, professional services, goods and general servicesfor businesses owned by members of protected categories not currently eligible for utilization goals under MWRD Affirmative Action Appendices A, C, D, V or K and to gather information to guide future policy decisions aimed at minimizing barriers for these business owners."
Shore said this ordinance is not seeking to establish any numerical or participation goals or change the MWRD affirmative action ordinance. She called on everyone to look at the purpose of the ordinancewhich she said is to be as inclusionary as possible.
Garcia asked MWRD Executive Director Brian Perkovich to have appropriate staff review and propose modifications to the appendix and have it put on the agenda for the next meeting on Feb. 20.
Among the other topics of discussion were minority, women-owned ( M/WBE ) and small business program legal standards that MWRD uses; pending cases across the country; trending issues; contract goal setting; how to include participation goals in furnish and deliver contracts; indirect M/WBE participation in district contracts; and intergovernmental agreements.