A New Day Has Dawned for LGBTQ Inclusion
As someone who has been on the frontlines of fighting for LGBTQ equality for the past 30 years, I was anxiously optimistic about what the change in administrations would mean for our community. Sure, it is easy for an incoming president who is known for supporting equal rights for all Americans to promise the moon to get elected. But delivering on pledges in today’s polarized political environment is no easy feat.
Boy was I ever wrong. One of the eleven Executive Orders signed by President Joe Biden a few short hours after being inaugurated included a sweeping order “to prevent and combat discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation, and to fully enforce Title VII and other laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.” Then, four days later, President Biden repealed the previous administration’s ban on transgender personnel serving openly in the US military.
This is a perfect example of an old saying that “actions speak louder than words.” All too often we hear leaders in the public and private sectors make statements denouncing discrimination on the basis of race, gender, and immigration status, as well as sexual orientation or gender identity, yet no substantive change occurs.
Don’t get me wrong. I am fully aware that the proof will be in the pudding, so to speak. More importantly, President Biden is demonstrating what is considered in the diversity, equity, and inclusion space as taking intentional steps to making change a reality.
This is something CAMP Rehoboth takes very seriously. We are committed to our mission of “creating a more positive Rehoboth.” As reflected in our mission statement, we are “dedicated to creating a positive environment inclusive of all sexual orientations and gender identities in Rehoboth Beach and its related communities. We seek to promote cooperation and understanding among all people, as we work to build a safer community with room for all.”
For those who may not be aware, I would like to take a moment to share what intentional steps the staff and board have taken in recent months towards this goal.
Room for All: The LGBTQ community in Sussex County looks much different than it did when I first started coming to Rehoboth in the late 80s. Today our beaches, restaurants, and bars increasingly reflect the diversity of our nation with greater numbers of African-American, Latinx, and transgender people among others.
Which is why the board made diversity a priority when identifying candidates to fill open roles with the background and skills needed to ensure CAMP Rehoboth provides support to everyone like new board member Jason Darion Mathis-White. Jason and his husband are co-founders and senior pastors of H.O.P.E. Deliverance Ministries in Millville, Delaware where they serve as community and spiritual leaders for this largely African-American congregation. We look forward to creating new relationships and understanding how CAMP Rehoboth can best serve the needs of people living in this part of Sussex County.
Promote Cooperation and Understanding: CAMP Rehoboth recently joined with the Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice and West Side New Beginnings to express support for the planned historical markers for Poodle Beach as well as for West Rehoboth. While we know Poodle Beach has long been an important gathering place for the LGBTQ Community, many are not aware of West Rehoboth’s history.
This historically Black community came into being in response to the segregation, discrimination, and violence African Americans experienced in Sussex County. Charles Mills, a farmer and devout Quaker, divided up parcels of his land and sold them to his workers for $100 each. African Americans living in West Rehoboth worked in restaurants and hotels in Rehoboth Beach, but they were not allowed to eat or drink in Rehoboth Beach restaurants, and they were not allowed access to visit the whites-only beach.
Since West Rehoboth remained unincorporated, they had no vote when it came to city matters. West Rehoboth was a vibrant part of our community for many years, home to many restaurants and an exciting jazz scene. While little of what was originally West Rehoboth remains today, we believe this is an important story worthy of a historical marker.
Creating a Positive Environment Inclusive of All Sexual Orientations and Gender Identities: The Human Rights Campaign recently released their Municipality Equality Index (MEI) and several jurisdictions in Delaware were scored. Overall, the MEI looked at over 500 cities across the United States, and Rehoboth Beach received a score of 58 in this index. This falls below the national average of 64, and below the scores of nearby Wilmington and Milford.
Executive Director David Mariner reached out to the mayor and commissioners to offer some suggestions of how Rehoboth’s score could be improved.
Like President Biden, CAMP Rehoboth is taking intentional steps to maintain our commitment to making Rehoboth a safe and welcoming place for the LGBTQ community and its allies. We look forward to sharing more about our efforts in the coming year.
Wesley Combs, a CAMP Rehoboth Board member, is a diversity and inclusion expert, executive coach, and a passionate social justice advocate. He is the founding principal of Combs Advisory Services where he works with clients who share his values of enabling equity, equality, and opportunity in the workplace and the community.