April 30, 2012 at 4:33 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Gray nominates two transgender women to Human Rights Commission

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.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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