Human Rights for All: The History of Stonewall in Delaware

By Peter Schott

Having worked in the US Congress for 25 years and retiring when I was 50, I still had the stamina, skills, and contacts to work on projects I really wanted to achieve as a Democratic activist and a member of the LGBTQ+ community. The Log Cabin Republicans, the gay Republican organization, was getting lots of publicity even though in 1996 it was clear that Republicans did not embrace our community.

I thought we needed a comparable gay Democratic organization, so after making some personal contacts and finding people online I helped organize the National Stonewall Democrats. Early in our development we met with Vice President Al Gore, and I served on the organization’s national board until I moved to Delaware.

I recognized that despite having a Democratic-controlled Delaware State Senate, a broad nondiscrimination bill was not possible. I began making inquiries about active local LGBT Democrats, and through National Stonewall Board member Mike Marsico I was introduced to Delaware-born Tim Spies. We put together a team of activists to begin building a local organization. We were facing a very hostile Senate, where Senator Venables was claiming he carried a copy of the “Gay Agenda” with him. I learned later that what he had was just a far right propaganda piece.

In February 2003 the first membership meeting of Delaware Stonewall Democrats was held to approve the bylaws and elect officers. The goals of the organization were also approved, including support for legislative initiatives protecting andenhancing the rights of LGBT individuals living in Delaware and working within the Democratic Party to assure more support on LGBT issues.

State Democratic Party Chair Richard Bayard invited us to sit on the party’s executive committee. Future Delaware Governor Jack Markell helped us become a viable political organization and suggested we raise funds to give to supportive Democratic candidates.

That first year we were able to get Congressman Barney Frank to come to our summer fundraiser, which was attended by three hundred people at the home of Dr. James D’Orta in Rehoboth Beach. Most of the State’s elected officials attended and we were on our way.

We raised enough money that first summer to be able to give financial support to candidates who were LGBT supportive and have continued to provide financial support to our allies and individuals we believe will support our issues. About 90% of the money raised by Delaware Stonewall PAC by membership and fund-raising goes to supporting candidates.

Our summer activities have become must attend events for many of the State’s Democratic leadership, and we have honored and welcomed not only local Democratic heroes such as former Speaker John Gilligan, current Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, and Governor Jack Markell, but also LGBT legislators Adam Ebbin from Virginia and Daniel O’Donnell and Governor Jared Polis of Colorado. We recently had Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland as our honoree.

As we continued to have electoral success, we are able to work with allies to move a legislative agenda. We wrote the hospital visitation law, secured passage of the non-discrimination bill, a civil union bill, and marriage equality legislation, and most recently supported the elimination of the “LGBTQ+ panic” defense. We continue to work on passage of a constitutional amendment to protect gender equality, legislation to protect the trans community by making Delaware a refuge state.

Peter Schott, is Secretary of DE Stonewall PAC, a member of the Eastern Sussex Democrats, is a retired Congressional Staff Assistant, a former member of the State Human Relations Commission, and a founder of both the national and state Stonewall PACs.