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LGBTflagSAN FRANCISCO (AP) — As a Mexican-American woman who started her own consulting firm in Los Angeles, accountant Sonia Luna has taken advantage of programs aimed at helping minority- and women-owned businesses compete for government and corporate contracts. But increasingly, the fact that Luna also is a lesbian entrepreneur hasn’t hurt either.

Federal agencies, organizations such as the National Football League and more than one-third of Fortune 500 companies are now trying to expand their vendor pools by explicitly encouraging bids from gay, lesbian and transgender contractors.

The little-known outreach efforts mirror long-standing “supplier diversity” initiatives aimed at creating economic opportunities for businesses owned by racial minorities, women and disabled veterans.

“It allows me to be even prouder of who I am,” said Luna, who hopes her firm, Aviva Spectrum, will benefit from a new California law requiring large utility companies to report how much they spend with LGBT contractors. “And it allows the marketplace to acknowledge a class that has been denied recognition as a minority group.”

The trend has not been without controversy.

While running for the GOP gubernatorial nomination in California this year, Assemblyman Tim Donnelly let his supporters know he voted against the groundbreaking utility contract law that took effect Jan 1.

“Government-mandated discrimination in favor of some market participants and against others is the very antithesis of equal opportunity, fair play and free competition,” Donnelly said.

Public agencies are prohibited under California law from using race, sex or ethnicity in the awarding of contracts, and the new law does not create any preferences or set-asides for LGBT-owned enterprises. Instead, state regulators will soon consider whether to set voluntary percentage targets for utilities such as Verizon, Pacific Gas & Electric and AT&T to meet.

To be certified as LGBT-owned, businesses qualify through a process overseen by the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, a 12-year-old advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. Applicants must submit documents proving ownership and prove their lesbian, gay, transgender or bisexual status through personal references or other evidence.

Over 700 companies have completed the process in the last decade while the LGBT chamber has worked with corporations — and, since President Barack Obama took office, with the U.S. Small Business Administration — to recruit those companies as potential suppliers.

A growing number of companies — including IBM, PepsiCo, ConAgra Foods, Marriott International and American Airlines — have recently started tracking how much they spend with LGBT contractors.

Denise Naguib, Marriott’s vice president of sustainability and supplier diversity, said about 1 percent of the hotel giant’s $450 million “diverse spend” last year was with gay-owned businesses that supplied everything from technology and furniture to translation services and flowers.

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