Celebrate Pride Month by exploring Delaware’s LGBTQ+ history

This historic image shows queer Delawareans marching in NYC in the 1980s for gay rights.
The Gay and Lesbian Alliance of Delaware (GLAD) Members at New York City Pride circa 1980s. Photo courtesy of Ivo Dominguez Jr.

This June, the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs is celebrating Pride Month by diving deeper into Delaware’s LGBTQ+ history.

Since last fall, a small team has been working on “Delaware’s LGBTQ+ Community: A Research & Digital Engagement Project,” which aims to be Delaware’s first holistic effort to capture the stories and important moments in LGBTQ+ history across the state. (LGBTQ+ is an acronym that stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning and many other sexual orientations and gender identities.) In-depth research, oral histories and assistance from queer organizations within and outside of Delaware, as well as members of the queer community, will inform a digital resource that is expected to be available to the public in late summer. 

“Queer history is held by the community, which is why we’re making sure to engage with the community to help tell that history,” said Megan Hutchins, project lead and the Division’s engagement and collections manager. “Once this project is publicly available, we hope that it will be a resource for people: For educators to help teach, for the community to find comfort and to reach out if they have additional thoughts.”

This sepia-tone image shows the interior of The Renegade in Rehoboth Beach, which served as a longtime social center for the area's LGBTQ+ community.
The Renegade in Rehoboth Beach.
This image shows Barbara Gittings, a Wilmington resident known by some as the "Mother of the Gay Rights Movement" wearing a black t-shirt that says "I cannot live without books," a quote by Thomas Jefferson.
Barbara Gittings, the “Mother of the Gay Rights Movement.” Photo courtesy of John J. Wilcox Jr. LGBT Archives, William Way LGBT Center.

The project examines state-focused LGBTQ+ history, and highlights more than a dozen Delaware-specific people, places and objects important to those stories, many of which intertwine with the national historical record. Some of those notable local figures include Barbara Gittings (1932-2007), a Wilmington resident known by some as the “Mother of the Gay Rights Movement” for her early activism; The Renegade in Rehoboth Beach, which served as a longtime social center for the area’s LGBTQ+ community; and a collection of objects from DeShanna and Trinity Neal, local advocates for transgender rights and respect in the First State, including a rainbow wig and the children’s book “My Rainbow.”

“As a queer Delawarean, it has been extremely meaningful to identify and research these stories that have been either forgotten or purposely excluded from the historical record,” said the project’s researcher Carolanne Deal. “By highlighting these stories and making them accessible to the public through this website, we are helping people gain a fuller perspective of United States History that can better help us comprehend the times we are living in.”

The digital platform itself will be a work in progress and is designed to be easily updated over time. It will include an overview of history, photographs and maps, among other resources and tools that will be identified during the research process. It will be a first-of-its-kind resource that experts hope will pave the way to uplifting and highlighting the histories of other marginalized communities in Delaware that have not been fully told before. It is the division’s mission to practice inclusive history and embrace uncomfortable truths, differing perspectives, and difficult narratives.

While funding for this phase of the project currently expires at the end of the fiscal year, Hutchins hopes that it will continue into the future. To share information that you think will be helpful to the project, contact the team by emailing carolanne.deal@delaware.gov.

Join Deal for a special Pride Month program, “Delaware’s Queer History: We Have Always Been Here,” at the John Dickinson Plantation at 10:30 and at 2 p.m. on Saturday, June 17. For more statewide events celebrating Pride Month in Delaware, go to delawarepride.org.

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