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Wintrust hosts second annual Pride Month event
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times

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Wintrust Financial Corporation held its second annual Pride month reception and panel discussion June 19 at the Wintrust Grand Banking Hall in Chicago's Loop.

Ahead of the discussion, Wintrust Community Impact Manager Elizabeth Okey spoke about experiencing workplace harassment early in her career, and how a person in a position of power tried to silence her just because she was an out and proud lesbian. Okey said that this event was a "homecoming" since Wintrust not only promotes diversity, it also celebrates inclusion.

Wintrust President, CEO and Founder Edward J. Wehmer moderated a discussion with panelists Howard Brown Health President and CEO David Ernesto Munar and Impact Engine Managing Partner Priya Parrish that focused on leadership.

"This is my house and I hope you like what I did with it," said Wehmer, which got laughs from the audience.

Wehmer said he learned a lot from last year's Pride event. He explained that afterwards he got letters that expressed positive and negative feedback. Wehmer said the negative letter writers asked him why he was supporting the LGBTQ community this way. His response was why not, since they are a part of Chicago and just want to live their lives like anyone else. He explained that only one person wrote back and said he was moving his accounts to another bank.

Both Parrish and Munar spoke about the history of each of their workplaces and how they serve their respective communities.

Parrish said Impact Engine is a venture capital and private equity investment firm that invests in companies that generate financial returns and positive social outcomes. The company is based in Chicago because the leadership team observed that few investment firms were focusing on impact investment opportunities here.

Munar explained how Howard Brown health started as an STI and mental health counseling clinic, and has since grown to become a full-service health facility with locations across the city.

Wehmer asked how Parrish's and Munar's personal experiences have impacted the work they do and whether their identity has always been something they have embraced.

"Being queer and coming out is why I do the work I do," said Parrish.

Parrish, whose parents emigrated from from India, always loved the business world and became an entrepreneur in high school and college, in part to not incur student loan debt. In college, she felt accepted until she came out in 2002; she faced multiple incidents of anti-LGBTQ harassment on campus.

This led Parrish to question her career path and college choice. But after a year-long independent study researching the role of for-profit businesses in social movements, she concluded that business can be a catalyst for positive social change. Parrish decided to build a career investing in these businesses.

Munar said he has been fortunate to be able to pursue his career while being an out gay man, although it was hard for his conservative Catholic Columbian-American family when he came out while attending college. He added that coming out as HIV-positive was much harder; he was diagnosed 25 years ago at Howard Brown Health. Munar said that even today there needs to be better education around HIV since there are still too many people being diagnosed as HIV-positive.

Wehmer wondered whether Chicago is more accepting of LGBTQ people than other places in the country.

Parrish said cities generally are, and that in the Midwest, Chicago is better than other cities. She and her wife have three kids, and thus contemplated moving to the suburbs but decided against it because they did not want to be the only queer family in the area.

Munar emphasized that the neighborhood and one's socio-economic status matters no matter which city one lives, which is evident from the epidemic of transgender women of color who have died in Chicago and cities across the U.S.

Wehmer asked Parrish about how Impact Engine gives back. She said that they invest in companies whose products and services provide greater access and better outcomes in areas like mental health and college debt repayment.

Wehmer asked Munar what is missing from other healthcare institutions that Howard Brown Health provides. He replied that the biggest issue is non-judgmental, LGBTQ-inclusive, culturally competent care and mentioned the Trump administration's healthcare rollbacks that have especially negatively impacted the transgender community. He further noted that LGBTQ people travel from all over the Midwest to receive care at Howard Brown Health.

Other topics included how each of them navigates the world as double-minorities, helping underserved areas with healthcare access, being a women-led investment firm and how their particular workplaces have impacted the Chicagoland area.

Wintrust Community Impact Vice President Susana Meza closed out the program with a call for attendees to tell them how they can better serve the LGBTQ community going forward.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot was also in attendance during the opening reception.

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