In what LGBT activists considered an historic development, Mayor Vincent Gray on Wednesday administered the oath of office to transgender advocates Earline Budd and Alexandra Beninda as members of the D.C. Commission on Human Rights.
Budd and Beninda, who were nominated for the position by Gray and confirmed last month by the City Council, were among 13 newly appointed members to the commission to be sworn in by Gray at a ceremony at the John A. Wilson Building steps away from the mayor’s office.
Also sworn in at the ceremony was Michael Ward, who was nominated by Gray and approved by the City Council for a second term as commissioner. Ward is gay.
The appointments of Budd and Beninda represent the first time a transgender person has been named to the city’s Commission on Human Rights, which acts as an adjudicatory body that enforces the city’s Human Rights Act. The act, among other things, bans discrimination in employment, housing, education, and public accommodations based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, race, religion, and ethnicity.
“I’m very pleased and I’m looking forward to the challenge and I’m always honored to be a representative of my community,” Budd said after the ceremony. ‘I’m going to do the best I can in this position and make sure that discrimination comes to an end.”
Beninda said she, too, was looking forward to joining Budd on the commission.
“I’m definitely very excited about getting started, and tonight we have our first meeting,” she said. “I look forward, myself and Earline, to be able to represent our LGBT community overall and especially our transgender community in terms of making sure our voices are heard.”
Thursday’s swearing-in ceremony came one day after a top official with Gray’s 2010 election campaign pleaded guilty in federal court to helping disburse and conceal $653,000 in illegal campaign funds.
U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen, the lead prosecutor in the case, said the funds allegedly came from businessman Jeffrey Thompson, whose company receives millions of dollars a year from a city contract to operate the District’s Medicaid program.
Gray has denied playing any role in illegal campaign activities, but the latest revelations raised concern among political observers and community activists that the continuing federal investigation could force Gray to resign. The mayor said on Thursday, in response to a flurry of questions by reporters, that he has no intention of resigning, even after three City Council members, including gay Council member David Catania (I-At-Large), called for his resignation.
LGBT activists attending Budd and Beninda’s swearing-in ceremony declined to discuss the campaign finance allegations, saying it was not an appropriate topic for the occasion. Gray received strong support in the LGBT community in the 2010 election and LGBT activists have said over the past several weeks that they remain supportive of the mayor.