Here’s the surprising reason a gay Republican supports a law supporting LGBTQ+ businesses

A bipartisan bill granting state certification for LGBTQ+ businesses in New Jersey is headed to Governor Phil Murphy’s (D) desk. He’s expected to sign the legislation, which codifies a state certification process he put into place by executive order in 2022.

When signed into law, the bill will provide LGBTQ+ businesses the opportunity to win funding, contracts, and other initiatives offered by New Jersey state agencies. Women, people of color, and veterans currently enjoy similar certifications offered by the New Jersey State Treasury.

The bill passed both chambers of the state legislature by wide margins. Just 11 lawmakers voted against the measure.

Bill A3330 was sponsored by Assemblyman Don Guardian (R), one of the few gay state legislators. Guardian faced pushback from fellow Republicans who said the legislation amounted to preferential treatment for white, gay men who don’t need it.

“Advocates for this bill claim that members of this community have a business disadvantage that necessitates preferential treatment, but that’s not true. These businesses have no disadvantage over other businesses,” said opposing Assemblyperson Brian Bergen (R).

While Bergen was quick to affirm his support for the LGBTQ+ community, he called Guardian’s bill “bad public policy” and a “symbolic bill benefitting virtually no one.”

Gay business leaders saw it differently.

“People have been waiting not just to be recognized by the state in which they pay taxes and hire employees and provide services and resources. They want to make sure that this is not going to go away anytime soon. As we all know, executive orders can be taken away,” said Gus Penaranda of the New Jersey Pride Chamber of Commerce, who testified in favor of the bill.

Penaranda told lawmakers that membership in his organization quadrupled after Gov. Murphy issued his executive order two years ago.

“What I’ve heard from the business community is that this certification is helpful for networking, for legitimacy, and for standing out in a highly competitive market,” Guardian said in defense of the bill. Over 130 businesses hold the LGBTQ+ certification already, he said.

The gay Republican recounted his own story of using Bob Damron’s Address Book in the 1980s to locate gay-friendly businesses on the Jersey Shore. The book — which was published throughout the late 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s, at a time when many states criminalized same-sex encounters — helped gay travelers find gay-allied businesses and safe venues across the nation.

If Guardian entered the wrong establishment with another man, he told fellow lawmakers, he risked being bashed and thrown out.

“That type of business today is no longer accepted. It should not have been accepted back then, but today, at this moment, we in the legislature have the opportunity to right those wrongs,” he said.

Guardian also had a message for fellow Republicans who claimed his bill would put beneficiaries at risk of being outed.

“From a personal example I can tell you this is New Jersey,” Guardian said, “and it was much more difficult to come out of the closet and admit that I was a Republican than it was to admit that I was gay.”

Originally Published Here.

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