Eastern Bank appoints LGBT community leaders to corporate boards

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By: Chuck Colbert/TRT Reporter–

In a move that further plants its business ethos within the gay community, a local financial institution has appointed three LGBT community leaders to serve on corporate boards.

Eastern Bank named Kara Suffredini, executive director of Mass Equality, and Gunner Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition (MTPC), as coporators.

Eastern also selected Rebecca Haag, president and chief executive officer of AIDS Action Committee, to serve on the board of trustees.

News of their appointments came first at MassEquality’s Icon Awards celebration last month. The bank made a formal public announcement in a March 5 press statement.

“Eastern Bank is very fortunate to have such a talented group of individuals added to our governance structure, and looks forward to their input and guidance in helping us further achieve our mission,” said Richard E. Holbrook, chairman and chief executive officer of Eastern Bank.

More representation of its clients

During a recent telephone interview Robert Rivers, president, discussed the selections. “In the past few years, we had an intensive focus on making sure our governance structure is more representative of the clients and communities we serve,” he said.

This year the emphasis was on improving representation of the Latino and LGBT communities, said Rivers.

As corporators, Suffredini and Scott will assist Eastern in addressing issues of importance to the gay community.

Corporators & Trustees

Corporate authorities of Eastern Bank are vested in individuals, known as corporators, who represent local community interests for purposes of governance and play a role similar to stockholders.

Corporators elect trustees who are responsible for determining how Eastern Bank conducts business.

Corporators and trustees receive compensation for attending meetings and for other functions they are asked to attend, Rivers said.

Trustees serve three-year terms, while coporators serve for ten years.

Praise for Eastern Bank’s move

For their part, the three LGBT appointees voiced praise for the role the financial institution has played in promoting diversity, inclusion, and social justice.

“Eastern Bank shows that corporate business concerns can partner with social justice causes for the betterment of both,” said AIDS Action’s chief executive officer Haag.

“I am so honored to have been asked by Eastern Bank to join their board of trustees and work with them on their continued commitment to strengthen our communities,” she said.

For his part, “Eastern Bank has been a corporate leader on advocating for the transgender equal rights bill and has been actively working to be a welcoming institution to the transgender community,” said MTPC’s Scott.

“Having an openly identified transgender man elected to their board and representing our interests creates a great opportunity for both the transgender community and Eastern Bank,” added Nancy Nangeroni, chair of MTPC steering committee.

Scott’s selection follows on the heels of Holly Ryan, whom the mayor of Newton, Mass., Setti Warren, selected to serve on the city’s Human Rights Commission. Ryan is a former MTCP chair.

Eastern Bank is a strong supporter of LGBT rights

And for her part, “Eastern Bank has long been a corporate leader in supporting LGBT organizations and equality initiatives through both its financial assistance and its progressive corporate practices,” said Mass Equality’s Suffredini.

“Some examples of this include offering a stipend to married same-sex employees to offset the federal tax on healthcare benefits that married opposite-sex employees do not pay; adding gender identity to its employee non-discrimination policy; and sending a top official [Nancy Stager, executive vice president of human resources] to testify in person before the Joint Committee of the Judiciary last June in support of the Transgender Equal Rights Bill. While some corporations do some of these things, very few of them do all of them,” Suffredini explained.

Eastern Bank was also the first corporation to sign onto an amicus brief in Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders lawsuit, Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, a challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The brief, which is now joined by more than 70 companies, argued how DOMA burdens businesses.

The term for compensating married same-sex couples to offset federal tax burdens is “grossing up.” Last summer, the city of Cambridge, Mass., became the first municipality to gross up city employees for unequal treatment under federal law.

For several years, a small number of businesses including Kimpton Hotels and Cisco, had a gross-up policy in place. But when Google began compensating its employees in June 2010, the practice gained momentum as other companies followed suit, including Apple, Facebook, Barclays, McKinsey and Bain & Company, among others.

Founded in 1818 and based in Boston, Eastern Bank is the largest independent bank headquartered in Boston, and the oldest and largest mutual bank in the United States, with $7.6 billion in assets and 95 banking and 20 insurance offices serving communities from the Merrimack Valley to Cape Cod.

In November 2010 Eastern Bank completed its acquisition of Wainwright Bank & Trust Co. for $163 million, pledging to continue Wainwright’s support of and strong ties to Greater Boston’s LGBT community.

In 1993, Wainwright, nicknamed Boston’s “gay bank, said it was the first bank to advertise in a gay newspaper the city and the first to sponsor the Boston’s Gay Pride parade, according to Boston Globe reporting. Wainwright also claimed to have helped persuade the Massachusetts Bankers Association to offer domestic partner health benefits to 160 member banks, according to the Globe.

With their appointments, Haag, Suffredini, and Scott join openly gay Brenda Cole, a current Eastern Bank trustee, who served in the same capacity for Wainwright.