Freshman Rep. Harley Rouda tacks on two pro-equality amendments at the last minute.
The federal government spends hundreds of billions of dollars on contracts each year, fueling a significant portion of the American economy. That power has prompted members of Congress to pass legislation that aims to ensure those who receive those contracts are representative of the country.
For example, the government has a goal of awarding at least five percent of all federal contracting dollars to women-owned small businesses each year. One group that is routinely forgotten, however, is LGBTQ people.
Last week, a bill to reauthorize the Export-Import Bank, the U.S. government agency that gives loans to American companies doing business internationally, included the standard boilerplate language to ensure equal employment opportunity in the racial, ethnic and gender diversity among agency staff and small businesses that get financing options.
That bill was introduced in late October, then marked up by lawmakers in a House committee three times before moving to the House floor. It was not until weeks later, just two hours before it was voted on, that Rep. Harley Rouda, a freshman Democrat from California took the floor waving a metaphorical pride flag.
“This agency, which aims to develop a level playing field for American businesses in the global economy, must be representative of and able to understand all businesses across the country,” Rouda said. “True diversity includes representation of the LGBTQ community.”
He continued in defense of his amendment to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the bill’s inclusion standards for workforce diversity. It passed easily.
After that vote, he then made the case for adding LGBTQ-owned businesses to the Export-Import Bank’s small business outreach plan.
“I believe it is critical we include an emphasis on outreach to LGBTQ entrepreneurs as well, who create jobs across the country and contribute hundreds of billions of dollars to the U.S. economy every year,” Rouda said.
The House approved his second amendment along with the larger bill.
“My amendments ensure that all Americans, regardless of who they are or who they love, can access the tools needed to jumpstart their American Dream and contribute to our economy,” Rouda said in a statement.
Rouda is making something of name for himself as a pro-LGBTQ legislator. As his first act of business in Congress, he fulfilled his campaign promise to sign the EQUALITY Act, which supporters say would help facilitate fair lending to LGBTQ-owned businesses.
Under the EQUALITY Act, which the House passed in May, it is unlawful to discriminate against any applicant for credit based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. The bill faces an uphill battle in Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Senate.
“The House has passed the historic Equality Act, but the fight for full equality under the law for LGBTQ Americans is far from over,” Rouda said in a statement.
Last year Rouda defeated Republican incumbent Dana Rohrabacher, who publicly endorsed housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation during the 2018 campaign.
To the contrary, Rouda, who was endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign, made issues of equality a tenant of his campaign.
His record on equality issues is getting attention from the LGBTQ community. Alyssa Napuri, a lesbian woman, told LGBT-interest magazine that it shows “there’s an advocate for our cause fighting for us.”
Rouda named Napuri his 2020 campaign manager earlier this month.