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Gray nominates two transgender women to Human Rights Commission

If confirmed, they would become first transgender persons serving on commission

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Earline Budd (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Mayor Vincent Gray has nominated transgender activists Earline Budd and Alexandra Beninda for seats on the D.C. Commission on Human Rights.

If the two are confirmed by the City Council, as expected, they would become the first transgender persons to serve on the 15-member commission, which rules on discrimination complaints brought under the comprehensive D.C. Human Rights Act.

The act bans discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations and other areas based on an individual’s sexual orientation and gender identity and expression as well as other categories such as race, religion, national origin, and ethnicity.

“To be getting one transgender person on the commission would be great, but to be getting two is fantastic,” said Beninda, a systems analyst for a software company and member and former treasurer of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest LGBT political group.

“I’m really excited and looking forward to serving,” said Budd while attending Saturday’s LGBT Youth Pride festival in Dupont Circle. “This is important for the entire community.”

Budd released to the Blade an email she received last week informing her of the appointment.

“I am pleased to inform you that Mayor Vincent C. Gray has transmitted your nomination to the Council of the District of Columbia, where it is pending Council consideration,” said Davida L. Crockett, an official with the city’s Office of Boards and Commissions, in the April 26 email to Budd.

“The Office of Boards and Commissions appreciated your willingness to serve the District, and is confident that you will bring a strong and dedicated commitment and leadership to this public service,” Crockett told Budd in the email.

Alexandra Beninda (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Beninda said she received a similar email informing her of her nomination to serve on the commission.

Pedro Ribeiro, director of the Mayor’ Office of Communications, released to the Blade on Monday a letter from Gray to City Council Chair Kwame Brown (D-At-Large) dated April 26 that places Budd’s and Beninda’s names in nomination for the Human Rights Commission appointments. Gray’s letter also places in nomination eleven other people he has designated as appointees to the commission.

Budd currently serves as a treatment and healing specialist for Transgender Health Empowerment (THE), a D.C. based transgender advocacy and services organization that she helped found in 1996.

Budd has been credited with playing a key role in transgender advocacy efforts and HIV prevention efforts targeting the transgender and LGBT youth communities in D.C. for over 20 years. Among her duties at THE is to provide training for D.C. government and private sector employees, including employees at the city’s Department of Corrections, on transgender related issues.

In addition to her association with the Stein Club, Beninda is a member of the board of the D.C. LGBT Community Center and serves as treasurer of the D.C. based All Souls Unitarian Church. She says she’s also an active volunteer with D.C. Democracy, a group that advocates for D.C. voting representation in Congress and greater home rule autonomy for the city.

The Commission on Human Rights is an independent agency within the D.C. Office of Human Rights. The OHR investigates discrimination complaints and sends them to the commission for a ruling if the office finds probable cause that discrimination might have taken place. Commissioners are appointed to three-year terms and don’t receive compensation.

Budd’s and Beninda’s appointments come at a time when the Commission on Human Rights has been operating with just three members, with 12 of its 15 seats vacant since January, according to Garrett King, director of the City Council’s Committee on Aging and Community Affairs, which has jurisdiction over the commission.

King said Councilmember Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), who chairs the committee, was looking forward to receiving the names of nominees to fill the vacant positions and

plans to take steps to move the approval process forward as soon as Council Chair Brown forwards the list of nominees to the committee.

Ribeiro said the list of nominees that Gray just sent to the Council, including nominees of Budd and Beninda, would fill all of the vacant positions on the commission.

Among the three remaining members of the commission pending the new appointments are openly gay appointees Christopher Dyer, who served as director of the city’s Office of GLBT Affairs under former Mayor Adrian Fenty; and Michael Ward, an attorney in private practice.

Dyer has completed two terms and isn’t eligible for re-appointment. A request for Ward’s appointment to a second term is included in the list of nominees that Gray sent to the Council on April 26.

In addition to Barry, the other Council members serving on the committee that will oversee the new commission nominees are Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7), and Vincent Orange (D-At-Large).

King said Barry plans to take steps to move the approval process forward as soon as Council Chair Brown forwards the list of nominees to the committee.

“I congratulate the mayor for his choices,” Graham said in referring to Gray’s nomination of Budd and Beninda.

“Miss Budd is a true pioneer on these issues and having her on the commission makes splendid sense,” Graham said.

The late D.C. gay rights leader Frank Kameny was appointed to the Human Rights Commission in 1975 by former Mayor Walter Washington, becoming the first known openly gay appointee to a D.C. government position. Several gay men and lesbians, in addition to Dyer and Ward, have served on the commission in the ensuing years.

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District of Columbia

D.C. Public Schools’ LGBTQ+ program helps ensure students feel safe

More than half of queer students experience bullying, harassment

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According a study from Theirworld of LBGTQ+ Gen-Z youth, students feel unsafe in schools. D.C. Public Schools is trying to combat the problem in the District. 

“Research shows that the way schools and families respond to LGBTQ+ youth can affect their physical health, mental health outcomes, academic outcomes, and their decision-making later in life,” said DCPS’ LGBTQ+ Programming Specialist, Adalphie Johnson. 

DCPS’ LGBTQ+ Program started in 2011 after a 2009 survey from GLSEN revealed that 9 out of 10 queer students reported in-school harassment. 

In response, they have created extensive programming to ensure students feel safe at D.C. Public Schools. In 2015 they created a trans and non-binary policy that included guidance on LGBTQ+ terms, locker room accommodations, gender-neutral dress codes, and more. 

In addition, they host an annual conference for queer and trans DCPS students. 

“The “Leading With Pride” conference increases networking, and builds the leadership capacity of our students and faculty advisers to implement school-level LGBTQ programming,” Johnson said. 

In 2023, more than 500 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced in state legislatures according to HRC. This year, Theirworld’s survey found that more than half of LGBTQ students experienced bullying and harassment at school.

Johnson said that students feeling safe in school requires creating an environment where all students can thrive. 

“We encourage students to report incidents without fear of retaliation and ensure that reports are taken seriously and investigated promptly,” she said. 

Johnson also pointed out that as a result of discrimination, students are more likely to miss school, which can lead to low grades, along with impairing cognitive responses. So, she said, it is best for schools to respond with action swiftly. 

However, Johnson and the LGBTQ+ programming team acknowledge that not all students come from supportive backgrounds. 

As a part of their trans and gender-nonconforming policy, staff are expected to work closely with students to determine how involved parents are with the transitioning student, before contacting parents. 

Johnson gave parents eight steps to ensure the safety of their child, if they are in the LGBTQ community.  

8 Steps For Parents

1. Educate Yourself. Learn about LGBTQ+ identities, issues, and terminology. Understanding the basics can help you provide better support and avoid misunderstandings.

2. Listen and Communicate. Create an open and non-judgmental space for your child to express themselves. Listen to their experiences and feelings without interrupting or offering unsolicited advice.

3. Advocate for Them. Stand up for your child in situations where they may face discrimination or misunderstanding. Become actively involved in the PTA and other parent groups within the school.

4. Seek Support. Lead or organize programming with/for other parents of LGBTQ+ children can provide  valuable insights and emotional support.

5. Respect Their Privacy. Allow your child to determine their own level of outness at school. Don’t share their identity without their permission.

6. Create a Safe Environment. Inform the school of any homophobic or transphobic remarks or behavior from others.

7. Inform school about their needs. Recognize that each LGBTQ+ person’s experience is unique. Ask your child what they need from you and how you can best support them. Communicate those needs to the school. This would be a great opportunity to develop and share a Safety Plan for the student while at school. 

8. Promote Inclusivity. Encourage, support and inform inclusive policies and practices in your child’s school community. 

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District of Columbia

SMYAL for Summer returns July 25

‘Their hard work, resilience, and identities are valued and celebrated’

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A scene from last year's SMYAL for Summer. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

SMYAL for Summer is back at Franklin Hall on July 25, where the youth services organization will honor the next generation of change makers in the LGBTQ community. 

“In a tumultuous year for policy against LGBTQ+ youth, celebrating the achievements of our scholarship winners sends a powerful message that their hard work, resilience, and identities are valued and celebrated,” said Caro Vordndran, SMYAL’s Development Coordinator. 

At the event, SMYAL, the D.C. queer and trans youth advocacy organization, will honor recipients of its Youth Leadership Award and the Sophie’s Live Out Loud Scholarship. Plus, the event will feature a drag performance from Mia Vanderbilt. 

One of the scholarship recipients, Lion Burney, said that in addition to the scholarship they were most excited for the community they will continue to seek in SMYAL’s safe space. 

“The SMYAL community means a lot to me. From found family to open expression to endless support — I am beyond grateful to be a part of this experience,” Burney said.

This is SMYAL’s 12th annual SMYAL for Summer event and the 40th year of creating community for D.C.’s youth. Given SMYAL’s history, alumni like Nathan Handberg often come back to keep traditions alive. 

Handberg was an awardee in 2019 and served on the selection committee this year. They said they felt great about their continued involvement with SMYAL.

“Being a previous winner really gave me insight that helped with the process of choosing the winners this year and I like that I have the ability to help shape future leaders in our community,” they said. 

Tickets for the event range from $10 for students and $20 for general admission, up to $500 for Platinum Supporters. Tickets for the event will contribute to funding for SMYAL’s year-round youth advocacy programming. The event will run from 6-8 p.m.

“They have housing programs for queer youth… they’ve done queer sex education classes filling in critical gaps that are left by our education curriculum,” Handberg said. “Honestly they do so much more, I could write multiple pages on my experiences with SMYAL and all they do.”

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District of Columbia

Congressional budget amendments target D.C. Office of LGBTQ Affairs, Human Rights Act

U.S. Reps. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) and Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) introduced proposals

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U.S. Capitol
Two Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives have introduced budget amendments that would defund the D.C. Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs and prohibit the city from using its funds to enforce the D.C. Human Rights Act in cases of discrimination against transgender people. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Two Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives introduced separate amendments this week to the D.C. budget bill that would eliminate funding for the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs and prohibit the city from using its funds to enforce the D.C. Human Rights Act in cases of discrimination against transgender people. 

The two amendments, along with as many as 10 other amendments introduced by GOP House members targeting the D.C. budget, were expected to come up for a vote in the House Rules Committee, which is now considering the D.C. budget bill, during the week of July 22.

Congressional observers have said the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate, as it did last year, was expected to reject most of the House amendments to the D.C. budget bill if they were to pass in the full House.

Under the D.C. Home Rule Act, in which Congress established D.C.’s home rule government consisting of an elected mayor and City Council, Congress retains full authority to approve, change, or reject any laws passed by the city, including its annual budget. 

U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) introduced the amendment calling for eliminating funding for the Office of LGBTQ Affairs. U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) introduced the amendment calling for ending funding for enforcing the D.C. Human Rights Act regarding discrimination based on gender identity and expression. 

Spokespersons for the two House members couldn’t immediately be reached by the Washington Blade for comment on what prompted them to introduce their amendments. 

Sharon Nichols, a spokesperson for Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said Norton strongly opposes the two amendments and will be urging her House colleagues to oppose them. 

The amendment introduced by Gosar calling for defunding the LGBTQ Affairs Office states “none of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act, including titles IV and VII, may be used for the salaries and expenses of the Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Affairs established under the Office of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Affairs Act of 2006 (Sec. 2-1831 et seq., D.C Official Code.”

The D.C. Council on June 12 gave final approval for D.C.’s fiscal year 2025 budget that includes $1.7 million in funds for the Office of LGBTQ Affairs. Among those who will lose their salary if the full Congress approves the amendment would be Japer Bowles, the LGBTQ rights advocate who currently serves as director of the LGBTQ Affairs Office. 

The amendment introduced by Mace would prohibit D.C. from using federal or local funds to enforce the part of its municipal regulations that prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or expression, which pertains to trans people. The regulations in question pertain to the D.C. Human Rights Act. 

“It is no surprise to me that Republicans filed two anti-LGBTQ+ amendments to the D.C. appropriations bill,” Norton told the Blade in a statement. “D.C. has some of the strongest non-discrimination initiatives in the country, including regulations protecting individuals from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” Norton said.

“The Republican amendment that would prohibit funds from being used to enforce anti-discrimination regulations and the amendment to defund the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ+ Affairs are disgraceful attempts, in themselves, to discriminate against D.C.’s LGBTQ+ community while denying D.C. residents the limited governance over their local affairs to which they are entitled,” Norton told the Blade. “I will do everything in my power to prevent these amendments from being included in the final bill.”

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