E&V’s annual Pride Summit takes a different tone

by Emily Mack

Rudy Zavala, Karen Arenson, Craig Hogan, Jennifer Ames, Anthony Hitt

Pride may look a little different this year. Many businesses appear less dedicated to the rainbow, worried about consumer backlash. So, perhaps more than ever, Engel & Völkers’ (EV) annual Pride Summit offered a necessary space to commune, proudly.

The two-day event kicked off with a cocktail reception at E&V’s Chicago shop in Lincoln Park, on June 2, followed by a day full of talks and panels at 110 North Wacker. There, on June 3, E&V’s CEO Anthony Hitt started the morning by reflecting on the space.

“We’re not having this meeting in some dark alley, we’re on Wacker in Chicago,” Hitt said, motioning toward the tall windows which displayed the iconic city skyline. Hitt himself is gay and is currently celebrating his 36th anniversary with his husband this season.

Introducing the next speaker, Ryan Weyandt, CEO of the LGBTQ+ Real Estate Alliance, Hitt noted that the fight for equality sometimes looks like “one step forward two steps back,” and it may feel like we’re in the “two steps back part” right now. However, he said, “We have to be cognizant that there is hope.”

Ryan Weyandt, credit: VHT Studios

As Weyandt took the stage, he noted Hitt as a personal mentor before highlighting the Alliance and its growing importance in the real estate community. “Pride is not what it’s been in the past,” Weyandt opened, bluntly. “Companies are hiding. [But] that’s not why we do it; that’s consumerism … This month is reserved for us to get together and celebrate where we came from.” But that also requires action.

As Weyandt reminded attendees, RPAC is the largest private PAC in the country, and the National Association of Realtors® is the largest trade organization in the world. So, within that framework, Realtors must try and hold their organizations accountable. “Florida Realtors is cutting checks to Ron DeSantis. Texas Realtors is cutting checks to Greg Abbott … We’re not saying defund RPAC but be aware of where that money is going,” Weyandt said.

“If you’re blindly writing a check and [hoping] someone above you on the food chain is making the right decision… they’re not,” he went on, emphasizing the RPAC President’s Circle as “the real decision makers.” However, concerned agents can get more involved through the nonprofit Alliance which advocates and educates regarding LGBTQ+ issues in real estate.

The rest of the day featured several panels, presentations and Rainbow Talks: short, informal speeches by gay agents. One of those agents, Craig Hogan, joined E&V recently along with his husband, Rudy Zavala. On stage, Hogan opened up about his difficult coming out story: Hogan, a Texas native, was kicked out by his stepfather and began living in his car at age 16. “All I had was a turntable and my Bette Middler albums,” Hogan joked. “But I always had something in me that was tough.”

Eventually, Hogan would become the first man to achieve the coveted Mary Kay pink Cadillac. A black-and-white photo, projected in the slideshow for all to see, showed a young Hogan beaming against the car. The year was 1993.

Craig Hogan

Hogan remembers driving the glorious pink Caddy up to Houston’s famous JR’s Bar and Grill, and six drag queens came out and started posing on the hood. “She’s landed,” he remembers thinking. As Hogan puts it, he was always “very out.” And that’s where he derives his power.

“Be in the room. Let them know you’re there. And they won’t [mess] with you,” Hogan offered as advice.

Later, a panel entitled “Affecting Change Through Political Involvement” closed out the afternoon. Moderated by E&V advisor Wade Marshall, it featured 44th Ward Ald. Bennett Lawson alongside Stephanie Funk, an advisor with E&V Bentonville, Arkansas, who is currently running for the state’s House of Representatives. Funk joined via video chat as she is dealing with the damage from a recent tornado in her hometown.

Funk’s District 15 is a far cry from Lawson’s own ward, which includes Boystown. Lawson succeeded his former boss Tom Tunney as the area’s alderman just last year; both are gay. Tunney was elected in 2003 and since then, Lawson says, “It’s expected the alderman there would be gay … I represent the traditional home of the LGBT community.” As Lawson put it, “Even the sidewalks are rainbow!”

Funk, meanwhile, is fighting an uphill battle. “We don’t have the smartest people making our decisions [in Arkansas]. Our maternal mortality is the highest in the country … There’s nowhere to go but up.” Funk said. “I live in a working-class area, full of people who deserve safe spaces, deserve to feel comfortable at home and to afford a home.”

When it comes to preparing for the next election, both of them shared some tips for allies. “Donate to the LGBT victory fund, call neighboring states and remember that your vote counts most in the smallest unit of government you’re part of,” Lawson said.

Funk then suggested voters vote all the way down the ballot, make themselves aware of all candidates, and make intentional choices. Citing her deep love for Bentonville, she said, “This district deserves someone with fight in them … I know my chances are not good. It could be a boulder that rolls right back down. But my business has not suffered. It’s actually done well.” Her advice? “Get involved in a campaign or run yourself.”

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