BART supports LGBTQ-owned businesses all year long with outreach and inclusion


BART supports LGBTQ-owned businesses all year long with outreach and inclusion

Paul Pendergast

Pendergast at his business on Treasure Island, photo courtesy of San Francisco Business Times

BART Senior Web Producer

Long after the Pride parade confetti is cleared, BART will be working year-round to support LGBTQ-owned and other disadvantaged small businesses, as part of its equity programs.

“We want to be on the forefront of inclusion,” said Joseph Towner of BART’s Office of Civil Rights. The office’s equity programs are intended to ensure that there is no discrimination. It helps small businesses obtain certifications that can boost their competitiveness for contracts.

Some certifications, such as for minority-owned and women-owned small businesses, have been around for many years. The LBGTQ certification program was added in 2017 by the BART Board of Directors.

The first LGBTQ-owned business to be awarded a contract is Pendergast Consulting Group, a public affairs and community engagement firm that is helping to strengthen and enhance outreach to others in the LGBTQ business community.

“We are spreading the word about why it’s important to stand up and be counted,” said Paul Pendergast, President and CEO. “It’s imperative that we are building a pool of qualified firms that can succeed in a competitive environment.”

LGBTQ businesses still face barriers in the marketplace, especially in the construction industry, and even in a region with a long history of advocacy such as the Bay Area. Under the Board action, certified LGBTQ contractors are eligible to receive a 5% bid preference on small business prime contracts. 

To qualify under the new policy an LGBTQ contractor must be certified by either the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce or the California Public Utilities Commission as well as certified as a small business by California’s Department of General Services.“The LGBTQ community has a long history of entrepreneurs,” Pendergast said, noting that because they weren’t always able to be their authentic selves in an office setting, many LGBTQ people started their own businesses.Gina Grahame

Pendergast organized a “Power Pitch” session earlier this year for LGBTQ small businesses where they pitched their goods and services in front of a supportive coach who gave them feedback. Gina Grahame, a presentation skills trainer and coach pictured at right, is herself a transgender small business owner, and she could relate to their experiences. Her company is the Grahame Institute of Strategic Communication

"Small business owners can be so busy doing the work of building their business, that they haven't really developed their pitch," Grahame said. "We were working with them to be better communicators, to be clear about what their expertise is and how they can use it to benefit BART."

Each business did a lightning round of pitches, then took time for Q&A about their businesses.

"I encourage them to lead with their expertise," Grahame said. "Being an LGTBQ-owned business is effectively the cherry on top -- it's a bonus. That's why this work is so important. It helps them to break into industries, like construction, that have an image of being very traditional and very masculine. And they break down those barriers by showing they can do the work and be innovative, maybe come at it from a different approach. There is a lot of entrepreneurship in the LGBTQ community."

BART also has a Business Advisory Council that focuses on the needs of small businesses. Sandra Escalante, President and CEO of Laner Electric Supply of Richmond, serves on the council, which advises on ways to promote opportunities for small businesses including minority- and women-owned, and now, LGBTQ-owned businesses.

Escalante purchased the majority share of the business from her friend Jim Laner, who founded it. She said it can be incredibly stressful as a small business owner because your employees and their families are depending on you as well as your own family.

Sandra Escalante

BART Business Advisory Council’s Sandra Escalante at her business, Laner Electric Supply of Richmond

“I think there’s a disconnect that we need to work on for our Business Advisory Council at BART to have a more meaningful role, and I’m not shy in speaking out about that,” said Escalante. Her firm has not been awarded any BART contracts but has supplied many other public works contracts, for organizations from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to the cities of Oakland, Berkeley, Pinole and Richmond.

“There’s compliance, and then there is coming at the issues in a purposeful, intentional way, doing the hard work to advocate for disadvantaged businesses and try to level that playing field,” Escalante said.

“Having an LGTBQ certification may get you in the door,” she said. “But you have to do the rest.”

Since 2017, BART has conducted some 70 small business outreach events, four of which had an LGBTQ-dedicated focus. BART has also established a database that has, at present, 165 LGBTQ-certified firms.

To be added to the database, BART encourages all eligible firms to seek certification via the CPUC or the NGLCC