Since 1985, ACLU-Delaware’s Kandler Memorial Awards Dinner has recognized those Delawareans who have committed their lives to the fight for civil rights and liberties.
For 2018, one of the award recipients will be the late Steve Elkins, co-founder and executive director of CAMP Rehoboth, Inc., an LGBTQ nonprofit service organization. Elkins passed away from cancer in March at age 67.
The ACLU invitation notes: “For over a quarter century, Steve epitomized the inclusive spirit of CAMP — “Creating A More Positive” — Rehoboth. He passed away in March, leaving a legacy of activism and community spirit that endures in the organization he founded with his husband, Murray Archibald.”
Elkins has been universally credited with making Rehoboth Beach, and much of the surrounding area, a place with room for all. Using quiet diplomacy and a gentle knack for inviting everyone to get to know members of the LGBT community as individuals, Elkins made an enormous difference.
In the 1990s, folks sported anti-gay bumper stickers saying “Keep Rehoboth a Family Town.” Today, Rehoboth and coastal Delaware towns are family towns for all kinds of families.
Elkins met Murray Archibald, his partner of almost 40 years, in 1978 when Elkins was working as an administrator at the White House during the Carter administration. He then went into the business world. In 1990, Elkins and Archibald moved to Rehoboth Beach.
The couple and their friends saw the need for LGBT support and advocacy in Rehoboth. They wanted to end the negativity they heard about the LGBT community. Elkins said he wanted to help Rehoboth think more about the positive and less of the negative — hence the acronym CAMP.
I always said we wanted it to be a family town as well but families come in all sizes, shapes and orientations,” Elkins said.
Under Elkins’ leadership, CAMP Rehoboth, Inc., grew, then purchased downtown Rehoboth office space, built a community center and thrived. One of its largest programs, Campsafe, provides HIV prevention-related services for people in Rehoboth and now in surrounding Sussex County.
Under Elkins’ leadership, CAMP Rehoboth began participating in programs with the Rehoboth Library, the Historical Society and business community, making friends and allies of the very people whose cars once sported those hateful antigay bumper stickers. He also introduced police sensitivity training to the community.
Elkins was well known for having the courage, as he fought for LGBT acceptance, to also call out his own community’s occasional bad behavior and make sure the LGBT citizens in Rehoboth were living up to their good-neighbor responsibilities.
In 2013, Elkins and Archibald were awarded the rarely given Order of the First State for meritorious service to the State of Delaware, signed by Gov. Jack Markell.
In the week following Elkins’ passing, in this once-divided town, flags at Rehoboth City Hall and the police department flew at half-staff in his memory.
On Oct. 17, the ACLU will present their Courage & Vision: Champions of Liberty, Kandler Award, honoring Elkins and two others: Maria Matos, president and CEO of the Latin American Community Center in Wilmington, and Kevin O’Connell, an assistant public defender, who will be honored with the Clarence Darrow Award.
For more information, about the Kandler Award, see aclu-de.org.