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Celebration and Education: Engel & Völkers 2022 Pride Leadership Summit

by Emily Mack

Anthony Hitt, Shawn Scott, Millie Shemluck, Edward Allison, Tom Janis, Wade Marshall, Joe Gerber

Authentic was the word of the day at the Engel & Völkers (E&V) 2022 Pride Leadership Summit. The event, which took place at The Dawson on June 24, centered LGBTQ+ real estate professionals who spoke openly about their personal and professional experiences. And while official panels made space for those conversations, a spirit of genuine openness was also felt even in the day’s most casual chitchat.

That Friday morning, just as the summit began, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. So, in a room full of marginalized community members, questions came up naturally: What do we do now? What other rights are at risk? The news imbued all talk with a sense of urgency.

Anthony Hitt, Jennifer Ames

Anthony Hitt, president & CEO of E&V Americas, seemed to understand this anxiety when he took to the stage alongside Jennifer Ames, CEO and license partner of Engel & Völkers Chicago, who organized the event. Ames interviewed Hitt, and his answers provided a sort of emotional center for the summit. He is gay and has been married to his husband, E&V Realtor Shawn Scott, since 2008. 

Hitt recalled his excitement upon joining E&V — but when he met with founder Christian Völkers to sign the employment papers, he felt apprehensive. Hitt said he put his pen down, turned to Völkers and said: “I’m gay.” Hitt had not always been completely out in his life and said that at E&V, “I wanted to be authentic from the start.” Then he described Völkers’ response: “Christian had a confused look on his face, like ‘Why would I care?’ … He was like, ‘So should I invite him to dinner?’” Hitt became choked up as he shared this story on stage.

Hitt also recounted other moments from his life, when acceptance, and even success, were not guaranteed. But, he said, “Being hopeful is a choice.” And it’s a choice that continued to define the rest of the day’s panels.

Curtis Hunt, a broker with Coldwell Banker, discussed the LGBTQ+ Real Estate Alliance. Founded in 2020, the Alliance is a non-profit dedicated to LGBTQ+ advocacy within the real estate sector. It offers members of the housing industry a chance to get involved, whether you are gay or a straight ally.

Another panel, “Living Queer in a Conservative State,” offered a personal glimpse into the lives of E&V advisors John McDaniel, Edward Allison and Charli Bullard. McDaniel and Allison are a couple from Texas, and Bullard lives in Oklahoma City. All three traveled to attend the Pride Summit where they spoke with moderator Wade Marshall, from E&V Chicago. Despite the negative perceptions of their home states on LGBTQ+ issues, each panelist described a fulfilling, “out” existence.

That sentiment was also apparent at lunch, when attendees networked on the terrace, introducing themselves and laughing over glasses of wine. Although much of the morning’s subject matter was serious — from discrimination to concerns over abortion access — the moments in between were a celebration. The event at The Dawson was educational, but it was also a pride party. As people posed for photos and swapped stories, there was a buzz of excitement which carried into the afternoon.

Representative Kelly Cassidy

That’s when the keynote speaker arrived: State Rep. Kelly Cassidy. Cassidy, whose district includes parts of Andersonville, Rogers Park and Uptown, is openly gay. And though she originally planned a speech focused on LGBTQ+ issues specifically, the news from the Supreme Court changed all that. Cassidy entered on a serious note: “We are one election away from disaster,” she told the room, stressing the importance of voting and protecting the Equality Act.

There were notes of optimism, too, as Cassidy outlined legislation she’s helped advance in the Illinois General Assembly. So far, that includes the Conversion Therapy Prohibition Act and a name change modernization bill. Most recently, Cassidy sponsored an amendment to the Illinois Public Aid Code which will make the HIV prevention drugs PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) and PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) accessible without a prescription.

Her presentation provided a taut political focus before the summit shifted back to the subject of real estate. In a panel about value-based branding, three agents offered perspectives on leveraging your identity as a commercial tool. Craig Hogan, of Coldwell Banker Realty, and Joe Gerber, of E&V, are both gay and explained their own approach while Erin Booker, of Compass, spoke from the point of view of a straight agent helping LGBTQ+ clients.

Maria Gentile-Martin, Shannon Mitrovich

For the final talk of the day, Hitt returned to the stage — this time, with his husband, Scott. They were joined by another couple, John King and Larry Mohr, who operate out of E&V Ottawa Central. The conversation turned into a re-telling of their love stories.

Once upon a time in Canada, Mohr, a former pro football player, became King’s landlord. King said he realized he was gay as soon as he met Mohr — who was fresh out of training camp — for the apartment showing. Similarly, Scott, who grew up in a strict military family, did not fully realize his identity until he was a young adult.

“I love you in front of an entire audience,” Hitt told Scott, proudly. The moment left many of those audience members in tears and served as a fitting conclusion to the summit.

Molly Pfisterer, Jaison Titus, Jennifer Ames, Dru Wagner, Shannon Mitrovich, A.J. Schmitz

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