Rep. Ritchie Torres to introduce bill to collect LGBTQ small-business loan data

Rep. Ritchie Torres, a New York Democrat, said Monday that he plans to reintroduce a bill that will expand a data collection rule for financial institutions to include LGBTQ-owned businesses.

Torres, the first gay Afro Latino elected to Congress, told NBC News that the LGBTQ Business Equal Credit Enforcement and Investment Act will amend part of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which requires financial institutions to collect data on credit applications submitted by minority- and women-owned small businesses. Torres’ bill would require data collection on LGBTQ-owned businesses as well.

Former Rep. Harley Rouda, a California Democrat who lost his re-election race in November, introduced a version of the bill last year, but it was never brought for a vote.

Torres said he will introduce the bill Monday, and that it is part of his effort to continue work that began when he was on the New York City Council. “I partnered with the LGBT Chamber of Commerce to persuade America’s largest city to adopt a certification program for LGBTQ enterprises,” Torres said, referring to a recent change by New York City that made LGBTQ businesses eligible for $25 billion in contracts and other benefits offered to other minority- and women-owned businesses.

Torres’ said this new bill is “a natural complement to the Equality Act,” which the House passed Thursday.

The Equality Act will protect against credit discrimination, but Torres said “that’s a floor, rather than a ceiling.” So once credit discrimination is a “thing of the past, we have to see to it that LGBTQ enterprises have their fair share of access to capital.” His bill “would essentially make the Equal Credit Opportunity Act LGBTQ inclusive” by requiring financial institutions to report the extent to which LGBTQ-owned businesses are applying for and accessing credit, he said.

The idea behind the bill is that it would help hold financial institutions accountable, he said.

“The logic here is simple: Transparency will strengthen the incentive for the financial community to extend capital to LGBTQ businesses,” Torres said. “Wall Street loves to extol the virtues of diversity, but we are asking Wall Street to put its money where its mouth is.”

He added that ”without the kind of rigorous reporting required by my legislation, we have no enforceable means of holding the financial system accountable for serving the credit needs of LGBTQ enterprises.”

LGBTQ business owners add more than $1.7 trillion to the U.S. economy every year and create “tens of thousands of new jobs in every sector,” Justin Nelson, president and co-founder of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement.

“For them to succeed, LGBT business owners must have unfettered access to capital and credit, which the data gathered by this act will support,” Nelson said. “For our national economy to thrive, all business owners from every diverse community must be included, studied, and supported at every level of government as they are in private enterprise.” Nelson added that Torres’ work in New York City, along with this bill, “will only further help accelerate the work in progress for full federal inclusion of LGBT businesses in government procurement.”

The Equality Act passed Thursday 224-206, with three Republicans voting in favor of it. Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., reintroduced the bill last week after introducing it every session of Congress since 2015. The bill passed the House last year, but it stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate. In October 2020, Biden vowed to pass the bill in the first 100 days of his presidency.

During Thursday’s debate, Torres shared what the Equality Act meant to him personally. “As a child of the Bronx who grew up in the projects, I was often too scared to come out of the closet, too blinded to see clearly my own value, my own equality,” he said. “My younger self could not imagine standing on the floor of Congress as a member of Congress voting on legislation that, if enacted, would make me equal in the eyes of the law.”

Torres called the vote “an emotionally overwhelming experience.”

“In the history of the United States, there have only been a little more than 130 Latinx members of Congress and a little more than 160 Black members of Congress, and none of them were LGBTQ or openly LGBTQ until I was sworn in,” Torres said. “So for me to have the opportunity to vote for my own equality was an overwhelming experience.”

The Equality Act was introduced in the Senate last Tuesday, where it will have to get at least 60 votes to bypass a filibuster. But Torres said “history’s on our side.”

“Public opinion has moved decisively in the direction of LGBTQ equality,” he said. “I am supremely confident that we will have bicameral, bipartisan support for the Equality Act, whether or not we will have enough support to overcome the filibuster remains to be seen. But we are as close as we’ve ever been to realizing the vision of equality.”

It’s unclear when the Senate will vote on the Equality Act, or when the House could consider Torres’ bill.

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