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Trans activists sworn in as D.C. human rights commissioners

Mayor administers oath of office to Budd, Beninda, 11 others

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Vincent Gray, Jeffrey Richardson, Alexandra Beninda, Earline Budd, Human Rights Commission, gay news, Washington Blade

The Director of the Mayor’s Office of GLBT Affairs, Jeffrey Richardson (center) looks on as Mayor Vincent Gray makes history swearing in Alexandra Beninda (second from right) and Earline Budd at the Wilson building on Wednesday.

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.

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Virginia

Youngkin vetoes bill that would have expanded Va. bullying definition

Bisexual state Del. Joshua Cole introduced House Bill 536

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Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin speaks at a CNN Town Hall on March 9, 2023. (Screen capture via CNN)

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin on Friday vetoed a bill that would have added sexual orientation, gender identity and expression to the state’s definition of bullying.

Lawmakers earlier this year approved House Bill 536, which bisexual state Del. Joshua Cole (D-Fredericksburg) introduced. 

“While I agree with the general purpose of the legislation, regrettably, the General Assembly did not approve my amendments,” said Youngkin in a statement. “Those recommendations would have expanded the definition of bullying to encompass all possible motives.”

“School administrators must work to prevent bullying and support our students’ mental health through a healthy learning environment, but the narrow definition provided in the legislation could be interpreted to exclude groups not included in the Virginia Human Rights Act, such as bullying victims raised with traditional values or those who are in foster care,” added the Republican.

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Rehoboth Beach

Selling Rehoboth: Lee Ann Wilkinson wins prestigious real estate award

Longtime agent on beach prices, her LGBTQ allyship, and more

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Lee Ann Wilkinson doesn’t see real estate prices coming down anytime soon at the beach. (Blade file photo by Daniel Truitt)

Longtime Delaware real estate leader Lee Ann Wilkinson of Berkshire Hathaway recently celebrated a major industry award after being named No. 1 in total sales volume for the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Network. Wilkinson, a Blade contributor, centers much of her work in the coastal communities of Lewes and Rehoboth Beach. We caught up with her to discuss her long career in real estate, her LGBTQ allyship, and more.

Washington Blade: I learned your parents were in real estate, and you began working with them early on in your career. Did you initially intend to follow in their footsteps? 

Lee Ann Wilkinson: Not really. I majored in art. When I got out of college I couldn’t really find a job. So, my parents said, “You need to come work for us.”

Blade: I understand that as an art history major turned writer. Speaking of that: I know you have written some pieces for the Blade, about real estate trends, and the like. How do you pick your topics for these articles? 

Wilkinson:  People always want to know about real estate. Whether buying a first home, second home, a home to invest or retire in. It amazes even me how much interest there is. And it’s not just people looking to buy a $7 million home on beachfront property. It’s people looking to get something in budget for their family.

Blade: I know you have a lot of work in Rehoboth, the Delaware Valley’s historically gay beachside community. Was there ever a time you were NOT selling property to – I guess it was fair to say 40 years ago – mostly gay men? 

Wilkinson: Ha, I grew up coming down for the summer until my family moved here full-time from Norristown, outside of Philly. We had businesses and family in Rehoboth. I think Rehoboth has always been gay-friendly. We never thought about it. My grandfather had a house in Rehoboth before I was born. The gay population was always welcome.

Blade: Do you have a connection to the LGBTQ community beyond real estate? 

Wilkinson: Absolutely. One of my closest friends is a guy I went to college with at the University of Delaware, Joey. You know, Joey was maybe my first gay friend. In fact, we all went to the Easter Sunrise Service on the beach in Rehoboth. We have gay family members, so I have never thought that much about it being anything different.

Blade: I know you recently won a prestigious award with Berkshire Hathaway and were surprised to come in first place. Why?

Wilkinson: For the past 20 years or so we have been in the top 10. We started doing these national things with Berkshire Hathaway. To get in the top 10 was amazing to me especially going up against states like Florida, New Jersey, not to mention San Francisco or Bay Area agents. I just never thought we’d get to the number one spot. My only issue is — where to go now?

Blade: Where do you make your primary residence? Is that Lewes? Do you see the president on occasion? 

Wilkinson: I haven’t seen him at the beach. But he’s on the bike trail a lot. He pops up having breakfast. He goes to Mass at St. Edmond’s in Rehoboth on Saturday evening. But I’m often too busy with work on weekends to catch sight of him.

Blade: Having been in the industry 40 years, how do you find ways to get excited about your work? 

Wilkinson: I really am passionate about it. I really love a challenge. That’s part of the appeal for this job. I always like matching people with things. I really liked getting people the right bathing suits years ago. Selling, it’s just something I’m good at. I would get customers walking outta’ the store with three or four bathing suits when they only wanted one. 

Blade: Are you considering retiring in the next few years? Or will you always be associated with the industry on some level. Maybe as a mentor or silent partner? 

Wilkinson: Oh, no, I’ll always be involved. Three of my four daughters work for me. I am not retiring anytime soon. And if I did, they would be here to continue it on, and I am sure I’d weigh in.

Blade: So, this is very much a family legacy?

Wilkinson: Yeah. My parents are 87 and 91 now. Some 20 years ago mom predicted we’d see an increase in prices, people moving here, etc. I don’t know how she predicted it but mom is right.

Blade: Any current trends you’re noticing? 

Wilkinson: This cycle of people moving here, and prices increasing, and all the building happening. People think the prices are going to come down, but I don’t see that happening.

Blade: Tell me about that. Are the new building ventures changing the faces of Rehoboth and Lewes? After not visiting the Jersey Shore for over a decade I’ve been going the past few summers to my cousin’s place in Cape May. It’s a trailer on a nicely maintained campground and it’s what she can afford. And, there’s so much building happening there.

Wilkinson: Right? It’s about finding a second home you can afford. And, in terms of building projects, the good thing about Rehoboth and Lewes is they are strict on what you can and can’t build downtown. They aren’t going to tear down homes to build multi-family condos, not yet anyway. In Spring Lake, you are seeing townhomes. So, building is happening and we have some condos, but it’s great to not see “overbuilding” happening in these historically smaller cities.

To learn more about Ms. Wilkinson, or property in Sussex County, DE be sure to look for articles she publishes in the Blade and visit the Lee Ann Wilkinson Group website.

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Local

Blum named director of new LGBTQ program at Carr Center

Program to expand research, training on safeguarding human rights

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Diego Garcia Blum

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected].

Congratulations to Diego Garcia Blum on his new position as director, Global LGBTQI+ Human Rights Program, at the Harvard, Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. This new program will expand research and training on safeguarding the human rights of LGBTQI+ people worldwide. It will address the escalating crisis of violence and discrimination against LGBTQI+ individuals globally. The vision is to establish the Carr Center as a key international nexus for LGBTQI+ human rights policy, training, ideas, and dialogue

 “The heart of this program is empowering and supporting the brave LGBTQI+ activists working in challenging and often perilous environments,” Garcia Blum said. “Through our training and high-impact research, we aim to supercharge their efforts.”

Prior to this, he has had a varied and impressive career. Recently he served as a Social Change Fellow at Harvard’s Center for Public Leadership. He worked with the Human Rights Campaign, serving on its Board of Governors. Prior to that, he worked as a nuclear engineer at Orano, a French company. It is described as a global leader in nuclear fuel cycle products and services, from mining to dismantling, conversion, enrichment, recycling, logistics and engineering. He has won many awards for his work and education. The Innovation CORE award at Orano; The Dean Joseph Weil Leadership Award, University of Florida; Most Outstanding Master in Public Policy Student – Ellen Raphael Award, Harvard Kennedy School. 

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