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W.Va. voters elect first openly gay state lawmaker

Stephen Skinner will represent portions of Jefferson County in the West Virginia House of Delegates

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Stephen Skinner, gay news, West Virginia, Washington Blade
Stephen Skinner, gay news, West Virginia, Washington Blade

West Virginia Del. Stephen Skinner (D-Shepherdstown) is the first openly gay person elected to the state legislature. (Photo courtesy of Stephen Skinner)

A West Virginia lawyer on Tuesday became the first openly gay person elected to his state’s legislature.

Stephen Skinner will represent Harper’s Ferry, Shepherdstown and surrounding areas of Jefferson County in the far Eastern Panhandle in the West Virginia House of Delegates after defeating Republican Elliot Simon.

“It feels great,” Skinner told the Washington Blade on Thursday as he discussed his election. “Certainly we can recognize it is historic, but we also must remember that it’s about serving the constituents. This is about getting the votes from folks who have the same everyday problems as anybody.”

Skinner is among the hundreds of openly LGBT candidates across the country who won their respective campaigns on Tuesday. These include gay Florida state Rep.-elect Joe Saunders and Stacie Laughton, a Nashua, N.H., selectman who on Tuesday became the first openly transgender person elected to state office in the U.S. after voters elected her to the New Hampshire House of Representatives.

Skinner, who founded Fairness West Virginia, a statewide LGBT advocacy group, told the Blade there were what he described as “some rumblings about” his homosexuality “on the edges” during the campaign. He cited lesbian Wisconsin Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin’s historic election to the U.S. Senate on Tuesday as proof that voters are increasingly able to look beyond a candidate’s sexual orientation.

“We’re at a point in time at least in this part of West Virginia where if my opponent or outside forces had attempted to make it an issue, it would have backfired,” said Skinner.

Joe Racalto, executive director of Fairness West Virginia, applauded Skinner’s election. His organization will honor him, among others at its annual gala in Charleston, the state capital, on Saturday.

“History was made today in West Virginia,” said Racalto in a statement late on Nov. 6. “Delegate-Elect Skinner is proof that people should be judged by their ideas and vision, not who they love. West Virginians should be applauded for breaking this important barrier.”

Coy A. Flowers, president of Fairness West Virginia’s Board of Directors, agreed.

“On behalf of the nearly 40,000 West Virginians who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender and for the over 3,000 same sex couples who are raising children in this state, we are ecstatic that our community finally has a true seat at the table in the West Virginia Legislature,” said Flowers. “Finally, our legislative elected officials will be held accountable on issues of fairness and equality for all our state’s citizens.”

Skinner noted the economy and jobs were the top issues among his soon-to-be constituents during the campaign. He also said health care and increased traffic associated with an influx of new residents who often commute into the nation’s capital are also a concern.

“We’re just 65 miles up the Potomac [from D.C.,]” he said. “Development’s a big issue, but we also have gambling is an enormous issue because we derive a lot of our revenue from the Charles Town races. In my district we have two MARC train stations, so we have lots of commuters. Lots of folks work on the Hill and live out here. We’re constantly dealing with the issues of being a community that still retains a lot of its rural character, but is very connected into the D.C. metro area.”

Skinner added the district’s geographical isolation from Charleston and other parts of the state remains an issue.

“We feel very disconnected from the state capital,” he said, noting it takes him less time to drive to Manhattan and five other state capitals than it does to Charleston. “The issues in the rest of the state aren’t necessarily our issues — and vice versa. But we’re experiencing tremendous population growth and it’s sometimes from within in the state and for a lot of people they’re simply living here because it’s affordable housing and a great place to live.”

Home prices in Jefferson County are the highest per capita in West Virginia, while its population is statistically the most educated in the state. Skinner said there are also a lot of “folks who are forward thinking” in Jefferson County.

“We have to make sure the legislators in the Eastern Panhandle are making sure that we are able to have the data to show to the rest of the state the difference, but also that we are generating a huge amount of the revenues for the state,” he said. “We need to make sure that we are getting the correct amount back.”

Skinner said he and other LGBT advocates will continue to push for a bill that would add sexual orientation to West Virginia’s non-discrimination law. He noted he will also work with his soon-to-be colleagues in Charleston on the implementation of expanded Medicare coverage under the health care reform law President Obama signed in 2010.

West Virginia is also about to implement what Skinner described as an “enormous” reform of the state’s education system.

“Having more autonomy and less centralization in a state like West Virginia is going to be pretty important for our future success,” he said.

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District of Columbia

Bernie Delia, attorney, beloved Capital Pride organizer, dies at 64

Activist worked at Justice Department, White House as attorney

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Capital Pride, No Justice, No Pride, gay news, Washington Blade
Bernie Delia (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Bernie Delia, a founding member of the Capital Pride Alliance, the group that organizes most D.C. LGBTQ Pride events, and who served most recently as co-chair of World Pride 2025, which D.C. will be hosting next June, died unexpectedly on Friday, according to a statement released by Capital Pride Alliance. He was 64.

“It is with great sadness that the Capital Pride Alliance mourns the passing of Bernie Delia,” the statement says. “We will always reflect on his life and legacy as a champion, activist, survivor, mentor, friend, leader, and a true inspiration to the LGBTQ+ community.”

The statement says that in addition to serving six years as the Capital Pride Alliance board president, Delia served for several years as president of Dignity Washington, the local LGBTQ Catholic organization, where he helped create “an environment for spiritual enrichment during the height of the AIDS epidemic.”

“He also had a distinguished legal career, serving as one of the first openly gay appointees at the U.S. Department of Justice and later as an appellate attorney,” the statement reads.

Delia’s LinkedIn page shows that he worked at the U.S. Department of Justice for 26 years, serving as an assistant U.S. attorney from 2001 to 2019. Prior to that, he served from 1997 to 2001 as associate deputy attorney general and from 1994 to 1997 served as senior counsel to the director of the Executive Office for United States Attorneys, which provides executive and administrative support for 93 U.S. attorneys located throughout the country.

His LinkedIn page shows he served from January-June 1993 as deputy director of the Office of Presidential Personnel during the administration of President Bill Clinton, in which he was part of the White House staff. And it shows he began his career as legal editor of the Bureau of National Affairs, which published news reports on legal issues, from 1983-1993.

The Capital Pride Alliance statement describes Delia as “an avid runner who served as the coordinator of the D.C. Front Runners and Stonewall Kickball LGBTQ sports groups.”

“He understood the value, purpose, and the urgency of the LGBTQ+ community to work together and support one another,” the statement says. “He poured his soul into our journey toward World Pride, which was a goal of his from the start of his involvement with Capital Pride.”

The statement adds, “Bernie will continue to guide us forward to ensure we meet this important milestone as we gather with the world to be visible, heard, and authentic. We love you, Bernie!”

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Africa

Prominent South African activist elected to country’s parliament

Steve Letsike founded Access Chapter 2

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Steve Letsike (Photo courtesy of Steve Letsike)

A prominent South African LGBTQ activist has won a seat in the country’s parliament.

Steve Letsike, a lesbian woman who founded Access Chapter 2, a South African advocacy group, is a member of the African National Congress. She is also part of the ANC’s National Executive Committee that determines the party’s direction.

Letsike won a seat in the South African National Assembly in national and provincial elections that took place on May 29.

The ANC lost its parliamentary majority that it had had since Nelson Mandela in 1994 won the South African presidency in the country’s first post-apartheid elections. MPs earlier this month re-elected President Cyril Ramaphosa after the ANC and the Democratic Alliance, the country’s second largest political party, formed a coalition government.

Letsike in a statement to the Washington Blade described her election as “a milestone for the people of South Africa, and also affirmative of our party’s posture that is inclusive and intention to transformation agenda.”

“I am not in parliament for myself but the people that trusted the ANC to send individuals that will put people first,” said Letsike. “In that cohort that includes the LGBTI people like myself. Rooted in the teaching of a just society, that seeks equality and believes in the rule of law. That demand on developmental agenda from a queer lens and clear priorities of the people is important.” 

“I am delighted by this task, trust and hope for our people,” she added.

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The White House

EXCLUSIVE: Jill Biden to host White House Pride celebration

Event to take place on June 26

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First lady Jill Biden (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

First lady Jill Biden will host the White House Pride Month celebration on June 26, according to a press release previewed by the Washington Blade.

The party on the South Lawn will also feature a performance by singer, songwriter, actress, and record producer Deborah Cox and musical selections by DJ Trifle.

This year’s event comes on Equality Day this year, which honors the anniversaries of three landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions that expanded rights and protections for LGBTQ Americans: Lawrence v. Texas (2003), which struck down sodomy laws, United States v. Windsor (2013), which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), which made marriage equality the law of the land.

The White House highlighted some of the “historic action” taken by President Joe Biden to “advance LGBTQ+ equality for the community,” including:

  • Signing into law the landmark Respect for Marriage Act which protects the rights of same-sex and interracial couples;
  • Appointing a historic number of LGBTQI+ and transgender appointees, including the first transgender American to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate;
  • Directing all federal agencies to strengthen civil rights protections on the basis of gender identity, resulting in agencies working to strengthen protections in housing, health care, education, employment, the criminal justice system, nutrition programs, and more;
  • Reversing the ban on open service by transgender members of the military;
  • Signing an executive order focused on LGBTQI+ children and families that directs agencies to address the dangerous and discredited practice of so-called “conversion therapy” and finalized rule-making that ends disparities that LGBTQI+ children and parents face in the child welfare and foster care system and protects against disparities in health care; and
  • President Biden continues to call on Congress to pass the Equality Act to enshrine civil rights protections for LGBTQI+ Americans in federal law.

Last year, the president and the first lady hosted the celebration, which was the largest Pride event ever held at the White House.

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