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United Way of Chicago launches LGBT affinity group
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times
2015-08-05

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Seven years after launching an internal LGBT Employee Resource Group ( ERG ), United Way of Metropolitan Chicago has taken this outreach a step further with an external Pride Affinity Group under the organization's umbrella term, United Pride.

This isn't the first Pride Affinity Group created within the United Way system, however, United Way of Metropolitan Chicago holds the distinction of being the only chapter with an LGBT ERG.

United Pride, according to its website, "serves the LGBT community's range of needs both within United Way and in our neighborhoods to affect change and foster a culture of generosity and inclusion."

With Matt Katzfey ( United Way of Metropolitan Chicago director of corporate partnerships ) and Seth Vermilyea ( United Way of Metropolitan Chicago project manager ) as co-chairs, the LGBT ERG is the first of its kind in the United Way system and the only such group within United Way of Metropolitan Chicago. However, conversations have started about forming ERGs centered around other groups of employees. The group currently has about 20 members.

"The ERG holds quarterly meetings and we recently participated in Chicago's Pride Parade," said Vermilyea, who identifies as gay. "We invited our corporate partners including those on the executive committee to invite their LGBT ERG members to march with us in the parade. This wasn't the first year that we've marched in the parade and it won't be our last."

The Pride Affinity Group is made up of an 18-member external Executive Committee ( formed in late 2014 ), most of whom identify as LGBT. Those members include Chairperson Jerome Harper of Northern Trust and members Daniel Izquierdo, BMO Harris Bank; Liz Clark, United Way of Metropolitan Chicago; Andrea Densham, Childcare Network of Evanston; Joe Higgins, Comcast; Dr. Supriya Jasuja; Robert Mazzone, Exelon Corporation/ComEd; Jeremy McDole, Fifth Third Bank; Mel Parks, PwC; Peter Petros, Edelman; Jeremy Pettet, Salesforce Marketing Cloud; Rudy Rios, Ogilvy & Mather; Doug Sanborn, MillerCoors; Brett Taylor, The Executives' Club of Chicago; Jason VanLangen, GE Capital; Edward Wagner, AIDS Foundation of Chicago; Curtis Young, US Cellular; and Myles Brady, Howard Brown Health Center's first transgender outreach coordinator.

In deciding who would be members of the Executive Committee, United Way looked at people who are champions of diversity within their respective companies/organizations, outspoken about LGBT advocacy and parity and have the appropriate profile to deliver on the mission that the Pride Affinity Group has set up.

"We're excited for United Pride to serve as the philanthropic outlet for our corporate LGBT affinity groups, loyal donors, community activists and volunteers," said Andrea BazÃín, senior vice-president of Resource Development at United Way of Metropolitan Chicago. "We strongly believe in justice and equality for everyone in our communities."

"United Pride gives us a unique opportunity to invest in a wide array of partner agencies that serve education, income, health and other basic needs of the LGBT community," said Harper. "The work we're doing as a committee is geared towards being successful because the issues and opportunities within the LGBT community are complex. Without a great deal of care we won't be able to affect the change that we want to see."

"When it comes to engagement across the region for United Pride and the Pride Affinity Group, the most important thing is hearing from Jerome and Edward about the importance of having good governance so the group will be set up for success in the future," said Katzfey, who identifies as straight."We're a new group so our goals are to make a concerted effort into the LGBT community in the areas of impact, influence, fund raising and volunteerism.

"A lot of work that United Way does in the LGBT community is funding agencies that are working with LGBT youth in the areas of employment, education and health. The group was adamant from the outset that when United Pride moved forward the group would do so in support of United Way's work not separately or in a different direction, but with a concerted focus towards the LGBT community."

Pride Affinity Group's key commitments, according to the press release announcing the formation of the group, "are to create a voice for LGBT inclusion in United Way's brand, communications, policies and investments as well as serve as mentors, role models, sponsors and colleagues who provide valuable knowledge and information on LGBT issues. The group is also tasked with establishing relationships with local organizations and LGBT ERG's, participating in and supporting LGBT community events as representatives of United Way and identifying and funding LGBT needs and services."

"As far as partnerships with outside entities, in August the group is volunteering with a free farmers market that gives local community members access to fresh produce in areas that are considered food deserts," said Wagner. "Additionally we're looking into neighborhoods throughout the Chicago area to identify an area where United Way has an infrastructure and we think we could have a significant impact relative to the LGBT community but also to other vulnerable communities in that area.

"We're working with United Way to figure out different options and then decide on a specific plan that focuses on schools and community centers that build on United Way infrastructure's that already exists in those key neighborhoods. This August initiative is focused on executive committee members but looking forward we're going to bring in other volunteers outside of the executive committee to participate."

"My own personal perspective about United Pride is we aren't doing this because of United Way or our corporate partners or staff," said Katzfey. "It's truly because the needs of the LGBT community are great and we can do something about it. That's exciting and challenging but it will give us great avenues for this group to move forward and perhaps to affect an amazing amount of change over a long period of time."

"In thinking about the ERG and now the Pride Alliance group, United Way was very deliberate in cleaning out our house before we invited such amazing, talented, gifted people in to take United Way into the LGBT community in a way they've never done before," said Vermilyea.

"Throughout my work in the non-profit sector I've consistently seen United Way have a tremendous impact on communities," said Wagner. "They're able to leverage resources in a really innovative way to achieve goals in so many critical areas. I think by being able to focus this energy in more of an LGBT lens United Way has a huge opportunity to have an impact on the LGBT community and mobilize the LGBT community to address other social injustices. "That's what motivated me to get involved. United Way is a great organization that's done so many great things. That energy is going to be focused on the LGBT community more so than ever before and that's really exciting for me."

"I'm concerned about issues related to parity within the community and access to services," said Harper. "In Chicago, Illinois and across the nation we have people on the ground who are doing grassroots work. That work must work in tandem with individuals who have the capacity and access to have conversations at the policy level and to advocate for funding for organizations that are serving the very complex important needs of the LGBT community.

"Partnering with United Way personally gives me an opportunity to have a seat at the table that historically has been a bit elusive. It's a great opportunity that United Way presents for us to sit in the room where decisions are made about fundraising from our community and grant making to our community."

See www.uw-mc.org/united-pride for more information.


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