Were politics or ideological differences behind the Small Business Administration’s removal of outreach web pages to the LGBT community after President Trump took office?
Two House Democrats want answers.
Reps. Nydia Velazquez andYvette Clarke, New Yorkers who serve on theHouse Committee on Small Business, wrote this week in a letterto SBA Administrator Linda McMahon that webpages for business concerns of the gay and lesbian community wereremovedafter President Trump’s January 2017 inauguration.
SBA officials assured the committee’s staff lastAugust that the agency’s website was under construction “with plans to activate the (LGBT) webpage in the near future,” wrote Velazquez and Clarke.
“Other pages that were also under construction are already up and running,” theirletter said. “This is deeply troubling and renews our concern that this page’s removal may have been politically or ideologically motivated, rather than simply administrative.”
The letter concluded by asking what drove the takedown, whether the removalwas directed by White House staffers, and if the SBA’s previous outreach would be replaced with “useful information and resources to address the needs of LGBT small businesses.”
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Responding on behalf of the agency, Roma Daravi,the SBA’s acting press secretary, said: “SBA is an inclusive agency, proud to support all small businessesincluding the LGBT community.”
However, the takedown disappointed Helen Russell co-founder of Equator Coffees and Teas, an LGBT-certified company in San Rafael, Cal. that grew with the help of SBA loans. During the Obama administration, the SBA named Russell’s company the U.S. small business of the year for 2016.
“Shocking and disappointing for sure,” Russell said of the missing web pages in an email to USA TODAY.
It is disheartening that the SBA has not taken action to restore the LGBT outreach page,” added Russell. “LGBT business owners contribute over $1.7 trillion to the U.S. economy. We are innovators, job creators, taxpayers, and providers of essential services that benefit our entire society.Erasing the page will not erase these contributions.”
The SBA billed the takedown as a temporary move by the new Trump administration, according to a January 2017 report by theWashington Blade, anonline media organization focuson LGBT-related news.
“As you would expect with any new administration coming in, websites throughout the federal government are currently under construction and review,” Terry Sutherland, the SBA’spress office director, said at the time. “As more policies are developed the websites will be populated with more information.”
Nonetheless, the absence has continued.
Efforts on Thursday to openone of the outreach pages cited by the House members led to an advisory that stated: “SBA is currently updating programmaticinformation on SBA.Gov. During the update, some pages are not available. The process is expected to be complete in the near future.”
An attempt to open a similar SBA webpage mentioned in the letter prompted an identical message.
Websites for the White House and the Department of State also dropped LGBT-related information after the Trump administration took over from the Obama administration, the Washington Blade report said.
A search for LGBT on the White House webpage on Thursday led to a link that included a statement saying Trump would continueenforcement of an executive order supportingworkplace rights of the LGBT community.
A similar search of the Department of State webpage led to linksaboutprotection and assistance for LGBT refugees, as well asthe LGBT community in the U.S. Foreign Service.
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The National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, an organization focused on business issues for the gay and lesbian communities, said the SBA should restore the missing web pages with updated resources and information that aid job creation and revenue generation.
The LGBT business community’s economic impact on the nation’s gross domestic product “knows no political ideology,” Justin Nelson, the group’s president and co-founder, said in a statement.”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 has known for decades: diversity and inclusion are good for business.”
The U.S. has an estimated 1.4 million LGBT businesses in all, added Jonathan Lovitz, the organization’s senior vice president.
The letter from Velazquez and Clarke said the SBA”made history” by honoring Helen Russell’s company asthe nation’s small business award winner two years ago.
The companysources its coffees and teas with afocus on “quality, sustainability,and social responsibility,” and has grown from a startup to abusiness with more than 100 employees.
During a 2017 MSNBC interview, Russell saidone SBA loan helped hercompany buy its first coffee roasting plant, anda second SBA loan paid for the opening of the firm’s first coffee shop.
“I want people to know that the SBA administration is a great place to go and a great resource for small business businesses,” Russell told MSNBC. Sheadded that the Equator team “loves”being business role models for the LGBT business community.
Follow USA TODAY reporter Kevin McCoy on Twitter: @kmccoynyc