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With many states in our country enacting laws that directly target the LGBTQ+ community, such as bans on gender-affirming care for minors and so-called “bathroom laws,” Delaware remains a state that is relatively safe for the LGBTQ+ community. But Delaware could do more by enacting legislation to protect LGBTQ+ rights and the community in general.

For example, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy recently implemented an Executive Order protecting gender-affirming health care “by directing all state departments and agencies to protect all persons, including health care professionals and patients, against potential repercussions resulting from providing, receiving, assisting in providing or receiving, seeking, or traveling to New Jersey to obtain gender-affirming health care services.” This EO is a proactive step to protect New Jersey residents and let Americans who live in states that restrict their rights know that New Jersey is a safe place for them to receive needed healthcare.

UWDE advocates for public policy that aligns with our work through the Public Policy Committee of the Delaware Racial Justice Coalition (DRJC), led by Alex Southerst, Manager, Public Policy & Engagement (The DRJC is led by Raina Allen). While the DRJC is focused on racial justice, “Intersecting identities exist,” notes Alex. “Intersecting identities, such as being both Black and Trans, can exacerbate issues and create even more risks. For example, people who are both Black and LGBTQ+ have higher rates of suicide and assault than people who are just Black or just LGBTQ+.”

UWDE recently advocated in the Delaware General Assembly for House Bill 142, which precludes the so-called LGBTQ+ ‘panic’ defense that seeks to partially or completely excuse or justify a defendant from full accountability for the commission of a crime on the grounds that the actual or perceived sexual orientation, sex, gender, gender identity, or sex assigned at birth of the victim is sufficient to explain, excuse, or justify the defendant’s conduct. While this defense has never been used in Delaware, this bill, should it become law, would prevent it from ever being used, and signals to the LGBTQ+ community that fear or hate-based crimes won’t be tolerated or excused in the First State. An essential function of government is to protect those communities and individuals that need protection, and this is the sort of proactive legislation that will help protect Delaware’s LGBTQ+ community. UWDE will continue to advocate for such legislation.

Another area that must have in our focus is school boards. Students are vulnerable for any number of reasons, and students who begin to discover that they may be LGBTQ+ are particularly at risk of both harm and self-harm. Dwayne Bensing, President of the Delaware Stonewall PAC, said “The state Department of Education has looked at requiring that districts promulgate anti-discrimination policies that protect students on the basis of gender and sexual identity within schools, but that hasn’t happened yet.” A good model is Red Clay School District’s Policy 8005, which states that all “programs, activities, and employment practices…must be free from discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity” and explicitly explains how the district intends to ensure the safety, comfort, and healthy development of the transgender and gender diverse students.

Dwayne also commented on the extreme risk of homelessness for LGBTQ+ children of color. Coming back to the intersectionality discussed previously, “LGBTQ+ children of color are at much greater risk of becoming homeless than their white peers, and with diminished resources due to the expiration of COVID funding, can very quickly become victimized due to being homeless.” The urgency is to ensure every LGBTQ+ person not only feels safe but can navigate space with affirmed safety.

Eliminating policies such as the “panic defense” and taking a step further to not just “look into,” but firmly require school districts to implement anti-discrimination policies that protect LGBTQ+ students, affirms safety while decreasing the risk factors that exist for LGBTQ+ people, such as stress and anxiety, says Dr. Keonna Freeman, Founder and CEO of Free Lee Life Services for Individuals & Families. Reducing stress and anxiety “connects mind and body, knowing and feeling. When this happens, the body’s physical responses get better, improving quality of life. As a Health, Prevention, and Family Scientist, and an advocate for the safety, protection, and health of LGBTQ+ people, all of this is essential,” Dr. Freeman continued.

With Federal dollars drying up, the Delaware General Assembly and school districts statewide can and must do more to proactively protect the LGBTQ+ community, and in particular people of color and minors who are part of the LGBTQ+ community. Being welcoming to the LGBTQ+ community is not sufficient; Delaware must lean forward and pass legislation and policies to ensure the LGBTQ+ community, especially the most vulnerable, is protected.