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Gay Afro-Latino man running for Md. House of Delegates

Ashanti Martinez hopes to represent District 22 in Annapolis



Ashanti Martinez (Photo courtesy of Ashanti Martinez)

A Maryland House of Delegates candidate who hopes to become the first openly gay Afro-Latino man to represent Prince George’s County in the chamber says his priority is working families.

“I’m in this race because I believe that we deserve a working class champion for working class families in Annapolis,” says Ashanti Martinez. “Industry has their people, big businesses have their people, but working families haven’t had someone in their corner in Annapolis in a very intentional way.” 

Martinez is running to represent District 22 in Annapolis.

State Del. Gabriel Acevero (D-Montgomery County) in 2018 became the first openly gay Afro-Latino man elected to the Maryland General Assembly.

“I think [during the] pandemic we’ve really seen the need for a responsive government that [will] build out a safety net, hold all of us together, and [be] something that we don’t currently have for workers here in Maryland,” says Martinez.

He wants to “be in the ring for round two of COVID-19” fight for individuals in the working class and families of which he’s a part, and most importantly, fight for himself. 

Education, criminal justice reform among Martinez’s priorities

Martinez’s campaign hinges on six main issues: Education, transportation, infrastructure, healthcare, criminal justice reform and the environment. 

He plans to expand the school meals program in Prince George’s County Public Schools; create green transport initiatives that make transportation easily accessible and affordable; and craft a senior-friendly healthcare system that reduces the cost of prescription drugs, hearing aids and dental services, among myriad other initiatives, if elected. 

His strategy is to connect with the seven different municipalities in District 22 and communicate with mayors, council members and other various stakeholders to better understand the shortcomings in their jurisdictions and devise solutions that will funnel resources into the district. 

“One of the biggest jobs a state delegate has is [to] make sure that local governments, whether county or municipal level, have the resources necessary to deliver services to [their] residents. So I know I’ll be able to do that going to Annapolis because I already understand the terrain a little bit better than most,” says Martinez.

While it’s premature now to forecast the course of legislation after his possible election, Martinez is certain that his paramount duty will undoubtedly be to “bring back the bacon” through the yearly budget process.

Martinez won’t ‘make drama out of my drama’

As someone who is entering an overly polarized American political landscape, Martinez is aware that he may have to battle the ever-present ruckus that persists in politics. He is, however, also steadfast at ensuring that this doesn’t cloud his responsibility to his constituency.  

“I actively have to remind myself not to make drama out of my drama,” says Martinez. “I think you get so much more done when you take yourself out of a situation, analyze it from that 30,000 feet conversation [standpoint], criticize yourself and realize that intent and impact are two separate things.”

Martinez further emphasized that he strives to lead by example and understands that although he may not be the best, he can always improve on his faults. Additionally, he recognizes that it is impossible to dictate people’s reactions, and this has given him the clarity that he can’t “make mountains out of molehills.”

“I really try to power through things and understand the root causes of issues so that we can communicate through it because a lot of times things are just communication breakdowns, or just miscommunications on a large scale,” says Martinez.

Howard University alum hopes to tap into HBCUs legacy

Martinez this year will be the first LGBTQ candidate to run to represent Prince George’s County in the House of Delegates.

He is certain that while he is a “first,” he does not want to be the last. As an alum of Howard University, one of the nation’s leading historically Black colleges and universities, his modus operandi will include tapping into the legacy of HBCUs: Creating spaces and opportunities for Black people in all American institutions. 

“Once I’m in and [help] get other people in, I think [we’ll be able to] help break down some of the hurdles [associated] with the navigating government,” says Martinez. “I think because I’ve been doing this for such a long time, a lot of the players already have a relationship with me and they know my style. I’m not big on tribalism; I’m really about service and people, and getting results.”

Martinez is also attune to the reality that being a first also comes with the pressure of high expectations. 

Given the backdrop of the pandemic and the country’s sudden racial awakening, his work will be even more crucial to his community during a time where immediate change is non-negotiable. 

“I have high expectations for myself [and] understand the realities of the world. I chose to be in politics, and that means I chose to be a leader in this space,” says Martinez. “There are certain responsibilities that come with the territory, and so from an early age I [knew] that if I wanted to be in this space … I had to seek understanding and clearance on issues instead of just trying to regurgitate my feelings.”

Martinez adds it’s about having the maturity to understand that leadership isn’t selfish and that there are much grander issues than why people react or respond a certain way. He says having a firm support system to help navigate and build upon that maturity is important.

Martinez is ultimately confident that he will be a success because of his vertebrae of family and friends, who he intentionally pencils onto his calendar for dinner in efforts to ensure that his demanding work life does not ravage his personal life.



Youngkin vetoes bill that would have expanded Va. bullying definition

Bisexual state Del. Joshua Cole introduced House Bill 536



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



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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Blum named director of new LGBTQ program at Carr Center

Program to expand research, training on safeguarding human rights



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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