Pa.’s small, diverse, and veteran businesses benefiting from billions in contract spending

Since 2015, more than $4.5 billion has been spent with Pennsylvania’s small, diverse, and veteran businesses through state contracts. For two years in a row, Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration has set records for contract spending with these businesses, including $995 million in Fiscal Year 2021. 

Wolf said in a statement that his administration has made supporting these businesses a top priority. 

“From the outset, we wanted to make the state contracting process more inclusive, equitable and fair for small businesses,” said Wolf. “Over the last seven years, we’ve put our money where our mouth is with multiple record-setting spending years. This is about building an economy that works for everyone – including the small businesses that power our communities.” 


The nearly $1 billion spent in Fiscal Year 2021 shattered the previous mark of $856 million set the year before and generated 10,000 new jobs. This FY spend with all small businesses represents an increase of 169% from 2015, when Wolf signed an executive order directing a coordinated and consistent effort to ensure diversity and inclusion in all contracting opportunities for small and diverse businesses throughout agencies under the governor’s jurisdiction. 


The executive order also established the Bureau of Diversity, Inclusion and Small Business Opportunities (BDISBO) to directly affect change for small businesses, veteran-owned businesses, and small diverse businesses – businesses owned by minorities, women, service-disabled veterans, individuals with disabilities and members of the LGBT community. 


“There is much to be proud of when it comes to our accomplishments in serving the small, small diverse and veteran business communities,” said Department of General Services (DGS) Acting Secretary Joe Lee. “The policies and programs we have been able to implement have laid a more than solid foundation that can be built upon for continued success in the years ahead.” 


The implementation of three policy/program changes in Fiscal Year 2020 was cited by Lee as a key point in the progress of BDISBO’s efforts. The changes are represented by the following: 


  • Small Business Reserve (SBR) that enabled small businesses to compete as prime contractors on specific procurements; 
  • implementation of goal setting for SDBs/VBEs to set minimum participation levels on goods, services and construction procurements; 
  • creation of the stand-alone Veteran Business Enterprise program that set participation goals specifically for these businesses. 


Kerry Kirkland, department of general services deputy secretary for diversity inclusion and small business opportunities, said a trend has been set in innovation and creativeness. 


“We have been able to commission the commonwealth’s first-ever Statewide Disparities Study; convene the first-ever DISBO Governor’s Advisory Council; and implement several other groundbreaking policies and programs to benefit small, small diverse and veteran businesses,” said Kirkland. “The future is truly bright for these business communities moving forward.” 


Program goals include conducting the follow-up to the disparity study; developing a capital and technical assistance program for small, small diverse and veteran-owned businesses; and continuing the promotion of legislation to statutorily establish BDISBO programs and policies.

Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Center sues Trump over roll back of ACA’s anti-discrimination protections

Adrian Shanker, executive director of Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center – Stacy Wescoe


The Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center in Allentown has joined a group of other organizations around the country suing the Trump Administration over the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services action to remove LGBTQ people and other populations from the protections of Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex and other bases.

This is not Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center’s first time suing the Trump administration. In 2019, Bradbury-Sullivan, represented by Lambda Legal, was a plaintiff in Santa Clara v. Azar, a move to block the Trump Administration’s Denial-of-Care Rule. In response to the lawsuit, a District Court vacated the rule in its entirety in November.

“While HHS’s health care discrimination rule cannot change the law, it creates chaos and confusion where there was once clarity about the right of everyone in our communities, and specifically transgender people, to receive health care free of discrimination,” said Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, senior attorney and health care strategist for Lambda Legal, which is handling the lawsuit along with Steptoe & Johnson LLP.

In 2016, the Obama administration finalized a rule implementing the nondiscrimination provisions of the Affordable Care Act—also known as Section 1557—that prohibit discrimination based on gender identity, transgender status, or sex stereotypes as forms of sex discrimination.

In May 2019 the Trump administration announced a proposed rule change designed to roll back these protections.

Last week HHS published the health care discrimination rule eliminating LGBTQ protections, which is scheduled to go into effect Aug. 18.

Adrian Shanker, executive director of the center, said even with the protections under Section 1557, his organization has had to advocate with health insurers for such things as continuing hormone therapy.

While in the case he was referring to he said they were able to get the insurer to reverse the decision and apologize to the member, further stripping away such protections would make it even more difficult for many marginalized groups to obtain the proper health care.

He noted that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last week that sex discrimination policies include sexual orientation and gender identity, overruling the HHS action.

The lawsuit, Whitman-Walker Clinic v. HHS, is filed on behalf of Whitman-Walker Health, the [email protected] Coalition, Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center, the Los Angeles LGBT Center, GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBTQ Equality, AGLP: The Association of LGBTQ Psychiatrists, and four individual doctors.


Supreme Court ruling to end ‘patchwork’ of LGBT anti-discrimination policies

On June 15 the U.S. Supreme Court made a landmark ruling deciding that sexual orientation and gender identity were covered under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, protecting LGBT people from discrimination.

“It’s not just a win, it’s a big win,” said Adrian Shanker, executive director of the Bradbuy-Sullivan LGBT Community Center in Allentown, a nonprofit that serves the LGBT community in the Lehigh Valley. “Congress has failed to act on this year after year. Now this settles it across the nation that sex discrimination includes orientation and identity.”

But while it’s a huge victory for civil rights activists, lawyers and business leaders in the Lehigh Valley, said the impact of the ruling on businesses in the area may not be as strong, because most major companies already have their own LGBT anti-discrimination policies in place.

“The vast majority of Lehigh Valley businesses have such policies in place now,” said Brittany Wiltshire, director of business and diversity councils for the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce.

She pointed to companies like Air Products in Trexlertown and PPL in Allentown, which have both received national honors for their support of LGBT rights.

She said the chamber, however, has been supportive of the addition of LGBT people to the Civil Rights act.

“We’re fully on board with any anti-discrimination policies. It’s important that we’re supportive and allies for our members,” she said.

What the SCOTUS decision does do, said Jacob Sitman, chair of the employment law and labor relations group at Fitzpatrick Lentz and Bubba in Allentown, is give the anti-discrimination policies more teeth.

“For a long time the rights of LGBT people haven’t been uniform around the country,” he said.

He noted that some states and municipalities have stepped up to enact their own LGBT anti-discrimination laws, but he said the laws are an uneven patchwork.

Pennsylvania, for example, does not have LGBT people covered under its anti-discrimination laws, but many of its cities, like Allentown, do.

As it stands now he said “a bunch of different courts are using a bunch of different rationalizations to justify a decision. This ends that.”

While he also said that most Lehigh Valley businesses already have anti-discrimination policies in place for LGBT employees, the SCOTUS decision will give more viability to any anti-discrimination claims an employee may have.

“I do expect to see an uptick in the filing of these kinds of claims,” Sitman said.

And for that reason, he recommends that all companies – even those who feel they have a strong policy in place – take time to review both their policies and employee training to make sure the issue is properly addressed.

“I think employers should understand where there may be some ambiguous focus on LGBT persons in training it must now be included that same as for someone who is black or Muslim or Catholic,” he said.

He said they must also be better able to respond to any problems with LGBT discrimination in the workplace.

Shanker said that while the SCOTUS decision was probably one of the biggest decisions ever in favor of the LGBT community, in reality discrimination doesn’t stop with a court ruling and work continues to make sure they continue to fight for equal rights.

“We continue to fight for equal justice,” Shanker said. “There are many other areas where LGBT people don’t experience the lived equity others enjoy.”

And Sitman warns, the fight even over this ruling, may not be over.

While the decision is now national policy he expects legal challenges from religion-centric business about how the law applies to them.

“It’s certainly going to be a legal issue down the road,” he said.

The conservative group the Family Research Council has already spoken out against the decision.

“Allowing judges to rewrite the Civil Rights Act to add gender identity and sexual orientation as protected classes poses a grave threat to religious liberty,” said Tony Perkins, council president in a statement.

Kassie Hilgert, president and CEO of ArtsQuest in Bethlehem and one of the most prominent LGBT business leaders in the community, said inclusion in all forms – whether it be for sexual orientation race or religion is just good for business.

Without it, she said “we miss out not having these different perspectives and solutions. All of these people are representing those people that are also our customers.”

She said with the organization interacting with more than 2 million people per year they have members and fans across the entire political and social spectrum, all with different views of the world, but feels that by bringing those groups together they can talk and find they have more in common than they might think.

“It’s not just LGBT issues, it’s black issues and women’s issues,” she said.

She said as an organization she feels ArtsQuest already has a strong anti-discrimination policy and has long supported artists of all gender identities, races and religious backgrounds.

“Frankly not much has changed. We just need to open our eyes and to be more receptive. We welcome every viewpoint,” she said.

U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of LGBT workplace protection

An employer cannot discriminate against an employee for their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The U.S. Supreme Court today ruled 6-3 that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination against LGBT people.

Title VII already barred employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex as well as race, color, national origin and religion.

“Today we must decide whether an employer can fire someone simply for being homosexual or Transgender, the answer is clear period. An employer who fired an individual for being homosexual or Transgender – fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex,” said Justice Neil Gorsuch, who authored the decision. “Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision … exactly what Title VII forbids.”

Adrian Shanker, executive director of Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center in Allentown, which serves the Greater Lehigh Valley, commented on what is the most significant ruling in favor of the LGBT community since same sex marriage was legalized in 2015.

“Today’s Decision by the U.S. Supreme Court affirms the dignity of LGBT people,” he said in a release. “Congress has introduced legislation to ban LGBT employment discrimination since 1980. Pennsylvania has also failed to address this issue year after year. Today, a bipartisan majority on the U.S. Supreme Court stated clearly that not only is it wrong, but it is in violation of federal law to discrimination against employees because they are LGBT.”

He said today’s decision is another milestone in the journey for equal justice for LGBTQ people.

Joining Gorsuch’s decision were Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Ginsberg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. Dissenting were Justices Alito, Thomas, and Kavanaugh.

Local activist edits anthology on improving health care for LGBT community

Adrian Shanker, executive director of the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center in Allentown, has edited a new anthology of essays by LGBT activists which aims to inform the health care system and LGBT health care consumers on how to give and receive better care.

cover art for Shanker’s new anthology –

Bodies and Barriers: Queer Activists on Health, a 256-page book published by San Francisco-area publisher PM Press, is set for release and distribution in early 2020. The book, which will be available wherever books are sold according to Shanker, features essays by prominent activists in the LGBT community, including a foreword by Rachel Levine, Pennsylvania’s secretary of health.

The book’s 26 chapters are each written by activists from around the country and the world, including several from the Lehigh Valley area of Pennsylvania like Alisa Bowman, a parent of a transgender child, and Liz Bradbury, director of the training institute of the Bradbury-Sullivan center.

 The book is structured chronologically to take the reader on a journey through the major stages of life for LGBT people, Shanker said, from birth through death.

Adrian Shanker, executive director, Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center, Allentown – submitted

“Our goal is to tell stories,” said Shanker, “with our biggest hope that the health care system will improve through listening to the true stories. We want to create a conversation that leads to improved care.”

Shanker said that the inspiration for the anthology came to him when he was a graduate student at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

“I thought about how there was nothing really published about LGBT access to health care and how to improve it,” he said. “I myself had a negative experience with a health care professional. For most health care providers, the intention is to provide great care, but they may not be aware of how to be more inclusive to LGBT health care consumers.”

According to Shanker, the book probes deeply into the roots of the disparities faced by those in the LGBT community and provides information on how to fight for health equity and better health outcomes.