Guest Commentary: It’s Pride Month, and ‘representation matters’


Rep. Eric Morrison has been heavily involved in Delaware’s LGBTQ+ community for 30 years. He serves as a Democratic state representative for the 27th District.

As we approach LGBTQ+ Pride Month, I think about how, in November 2020, along with Sens. Sarah McBride, D-Wilmington, and Marie Pinkney, D-Bear, I was honored to be one of the first openly LGBTQ+ legislators elected to the Delaware General Assembly in its 244-year history. In November 2022, we added two more openly LGBTQ+ legislators, Reps. DeShanna Neal, D-Wilmington, and Kerri Evelyn Harris, D-Dover. I’m thrilled that in two election cycles, we have gone from no open representation in Dover to five openly LGBTQ+ legislators.

Representation matters for two reasons. First, members of our community (especially youth) can see individuals like them in community leadership positions as positive reflections of their identities. Second, as deeply as we appreciate our allies, if members of minority communities do not have a seat at the table, issues affecting that community often cannot be identified, much less addressed. (And let us not forget trailblazer Sen. Karen Peterson, who served from 2002-16 and came out during the marriage equality debate.)

Recently, I introduced legislation that would ban any “LGBTQ panic defense” in Delaware. The legislation has 23 prime sponsors and co-sponsors and bipartisan support. Historically, this has been known as the “gay panic defense,” but it is now used more often in cases involving transgender individuals than gay individuals. The defense is a legal strategy asking a jury to find that a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity/expression is to blame for a defendant’s violent reaction, up to and including murder.

Fortunately, this defense has never been put forth in a Delaware court case. But it is important to make sure that it never can be. Since 2014, 16 states and Washington, D.C., have passed similar legislation, and several other states are currently considering similar legislation. In 2013, the American Bar Association unanimously passed a resolution urging the federal government and state governments to ban this defense. Such legislation has been introduced twice at the federal level, but unfortunately, both times, it has not been successful.

Over the years, the LGBTQ panic defense has been both successful and unsuccessful. Famously, in 1999, attorneys for the killers of Matthew Shepard put forth a panic defense, though it was not allowed by the trial judge. In 1995, Scott Amedure was fatally shot by acquaintance Jonathan Schmitz after Mr. Amedure revealed a secret crush on Mr. Schmitz on “The Jenny Jones Show.” The defense was allowed but unsuccessful. In 2018, in Texas, James Miller stabbed to death his neighbor, Daniel Spencer, after Mr. Spencer allegedly made a pass at him. Mr. Miller was sentenced only to six months in jail and probation.

Last year, I worked with Sen. Marie Pinkney to pass legislation to update Delaware’s hate crimes laws. The legislation modernized the definition of a hate crime; clarified that a hate crime can be motivated by whole or in part by hate; designated that a hate crime can be charged based on the perpetrator’s perception that the victim belongs to a certain group, whether or not they actually do; and declared that a hate crime can be motivated by the perpetrator’s hatred toward an individual or a group. The legislation also established a right to civil remedies for hate crime victims and requires law enforcement to report hate crimes to the Division of Civil Rights & Public Trust for tracking and statistical purposes.

This year — for the third year in a row — I will introduce a joint House of Representatives and Senate resolution declaring June as Pride Month in Delaware. In my 2021 remarks on the House floor, I said, “The 1969 Stonewall riots sparked the modern LGBTQ+ civil rights movement in America. There’s a saying in our community urging us to remember that it was a riot — not a cocktail party. For decades in America, police officers regularly raided gay bars — the one somewhat safe space where we could congregate. But, on June 28, 1969, some brave members of our community took a stand. At the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village in New York City, they fought back against the police with whatever they could — garbage cans, bottles, glasses, rocks, bricks, their fists and their voices.”

Of course, these pieces of legislation are in addition to numerous bills I have introduced and worked on to address issues including education, public safety, health care, labor, climate change and the environment, voting rights and reform in the areas of campaign finance, elections and criminal justice. I look forward to continuing to represent members of Delaware’s LGBTQ+ community — and all Delawareans — in the General Assembly.

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