Neither Alexandra Beninda nor Earline Budd is a stranger to the LGBT community, so it came as little shock when Mayor Vincent Gray (D) nominated the two for seats on the D.C. Commission on Human Rights.
The commission is an independent agency within the city's Office of Human Rights that primarily adjudicates private sector discrimination complaints brought under the D.C. Human Rights Act. The commission is made up of 15 commissioners, each nominated by the mayor and confirmed by the City Council, who serve unpaid three-year terms.
Beninda has served as the former treasurer of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the current treasurer of All Souls Unitarian Church and is a board member of The DC Center. Budd, one of the founders of Transgender Health Empowerment (THE), is a longtime community activist who has been credited with working closely with the Metropolitan Police Department on cases involving transgender victims or witnesses. She has also served as a sensitivity trainer for D.C. government employees, educating them on transgender-related issues.
If approved by the council, Beninda and Budd would become the first transgender members to serve on the commission, a longstanding goal of the local transgender community.
Until their nominations were announced, the lack of a transgender representative on the commission has been an issue that has been raised in several different transgender-related forums.
Several councilmembers and candidates for public office have also expressed support for a transgender representative, including Councilmember Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), who chairs the Committee on Aging and Community Affairs, which oversees the commission. While seeking the endorsement of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club on Feb. 23, Barry pointed to his role as committee chair as a reason to endorse him, telling the organization's members that he could facilitate a transgender nominee's placement on the Commission on Human Rights.
Beninda says she feels ''honored and privileged'' to be nominated with somebody like Budd, with whom she feels she could work well. She also emphasizes the importance of having a transgender representative on the commission, someone personally involved in the issues unique to the transgender community.
''I was already thinking what benefits we trans women have to offer is not only are we tuned in to the effects of discrimination in the transgender community, but how it applies to other groups,'' she says. ''We're attuned to the impact of being treated as a member of a group rather than as an individual.''
The next step for the nominations is the Committee on Aging and Community Affairs, where Beninda and Budd may face questioning, says David Simmons, chief administrative law judge for the Commission on Human Rights. The committee will then make a recommendation to the full council.
Beninda says she's not yet been advised of when she'll be meeting with the committee, but is hopeful the process will move quickly and that both she and Budd will join the commission. Metro Weekly was unable to reach Budd for comment.