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Activists rally for gay minister facing eviction

Faith Temple pastor opened home of 24 years for Bible study, church events

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Robert Michael Vanzant, gay news, Washington Blade

Faith Temple pastor Robert Michael Vanzant opened his home of 24 years for Bible study, church events, but now he may lose that home. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Rev. Robert Michael Vanzant, 59, the outreach pastor for D.C.’s Faith Temple, a Christian church with a special outreach to the African-American LGBT community, says he’s doing his “very best” to keep his spirits up at a time of need.

His Northeast Washington home of 24 years is in foreclosure and the Bank of America, which holds the mortgage, is taking steps to have him evicted.

“I’ve spent my entire life serving God and my community,” Vanzant said in an open letter to the bank that he released last week. “When I became disabled and my income dropped, I reached out and asked for a modification so that I could continue to pay my mortgage. You denied my request and set me up for foreclosure and eviction.”

Last week, friends and associates at Faith Temple joined the D.C. anti-foreclosure group Occupy Our Homes in staging a protest demonstration on his behalf outside the Bank of America’s loan office on U Street, N.W., just off 14th Street.

The protest organizers say Bank of America appears to have violated a city law that requires lenders to enter into a mediation process with borrowers who have fallen behind on their mortgage.

An official with the city agency that administers the mediation program said its intent is to determine whether a borrower is qualified for one of nearly a dozen federal programs that encourage and in some cases pay lenders to modify the terms of a mortgage to lower the monthly payments and enable a mortgage holder to keep the home.

Vanzant has served as a pastor at Faith Temple since the church was founded in 1982. He said he moved into his house on the 5500 block of 5th Street, N.E., in 1988 as a tenant before buying the semi-detached townhouse in 2003 from his landlord.

Isaiah Poole, a longtime member of the church and friend of Vanzant’s, said Vanzant has long opened his house for church functions, including Bible study classes. Poole said Vanzant also has opened his home as a shelter for people in need.

Vanzant told the Blade his problems began in 2008 when he became disabled due to illness and was later approved for disability status. He said that although he was no longer able to keep his full-time day job with the Metro transit agency, for the next year and a half he managed to continue making his mortgage payments through a disability insurance policy he had and later through Social Security disability benefits.

“I called the bank in early 2009 and said my income was going to change soon and I needed to talk about streamlining my mortgage,” he said. According to Vanzant, bank officials told him there were no mortgage assistance programs available for people who were current on their payments.

He said he next contacted several mortgage counseling organizations that promoted themselves as experts in helping people at risk for foreclosure. One of the organizations advised him to withhold his mortgage payments and place the money in a savings or escrow account, with the intent of working out a mortgage modification plan with the bank at a later date.

“And so that’s what I did,” he said.

But by early 2010, Bank of America began foreclosure proceedings and refused to discuss any mortgage adjustment options that had been widely publicized in the media and by the Obama administration.

“I received something from the law office that was representing the bank that they were foreclosing,” he said. “At the same time I received a notice from the Landlord-Tenant Court from the bank’s lawyer about an eviction.”

Added Vanzant, “That’s when she [the bank’s lawyer] told me, ‘They don’t want to talk to you. They won’t have anything to do with you. They don’t have anything to say to you.’”

Mike Haack, an organizer for Occupy Our Homes and one of the leaders of the protest demonstration last week, said the group plans further protests if Bank of America doesn’t demonstrate a good faith effort to work out a way for Vanzant to save his home.

“We feel the bank can take steps to allow him to keep his house,” Haack said. “The Reverend is an asset to the community.”

Vanzant, who was being treated at Howard University Hospital at the time of the Sept. 6 protest, said a representative of the bank called him at the hospital that same day, leading him to believe that the protest may have “alerted” the bank to his plight.

“I told them I couldn’t talk to them at that time because I was under medical treatment,” he told the Blade. “I said I would like to talk to them the next week.”

He said the bank’s representative called again last Friday and he arranged to speak with the representative this week.

“I’m trying to arrange for some legal representation before I talk to them,” he said. “I’ve made mistakes in the past and have had what my friends say was some bad advice” by organizations he paid to help during the past two years.

Brian Sullivan, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which administers the federal government’s mortgage assistance programs, said HUD strongly urges consumers not to pay anyone for so-called mortgage assistance services. He said HUD has a long list of HUD-approved mortgage counseling organizations and all of them offer their services for free.

He said Vanzant would likely qualify for a mortgage modification program, but a final determination on his qualifications would depend on the specific status of his mortgage, such as whether it is associated with federally linked agencies like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac or the Federal Housing Administration (FHA).

“He has to provide all of this information to whoever he selects to help him get through this process,” Sullivan said.

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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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