When LGBT groups look for states where they could gain ground, Delaware appears to be promising territory.

Liberals control the governors’ mansion and both legislative chambers. More conservative legislators have historically steered clear of social issues. State laws already support transgenderism in various ways—e.g., banning discrimination based on “gender identity” and forbidding insurance companies from limiting or excluding coverage on the same basis.

So progressive activists decided to shoot for the moon. This past year, at the direction of Gov. John Carney, the state Department of Education issued a regulation telling local schools to allow students—as early as kindergarten—to define their own gender and race. Moreover, school officials wouldn’t tell parents unless they were deemed to be “supportive” of the child’s decision.

By law, the policy issued on Nov. 1 (Regulation 225) could not take effect until 30 days allowing the public to comment had passed. That wasn’t much time. But it was time enough for many people to make their voices heard.

Alerted to the policy’s content by Delaware Family Policy Council, Focus on the Family’s public-policy partner in the state, more than 8,000 residents signed a petition opposing 225, while some 11,000 comments (both pro and con) were posted on the state register—striking numbers in a state with a population of only 952,000 and a period so short.

“We got attention in local, state and national media,” says Delaware FPC President and Executive Director Nicole Theis. “Then local parents started to catch on. They were the ones who really spread the word, directing people to our petition.”

The resistance spread to institutions. At least one school board strongly protested the policy. A group of legislators joined in as well, one of them letting it be known that he’d sue if the regulation took effect.

And by early December, the transgender-promotion train was forced to hit the brakes. The Education Department announced that 225 would be postponed for “careful review” of the comments, and “substantive changes” would be considered.

Where things go from here was still an open question at press time. But what once looked like a quick victory for LGBT activists has now turned into a serious tussle where the outcome is in doubt. And that’s a testament to the power of parents in any state—whatever its politics—to speak in a voice that can’t be ignored.

The Devil in the Details

Based in Texas, David Pickup lives some 1,400 miles from Delaware. But what’s happening there hits home for him.

Pickup is a therapist who helps people come out of homosexuality and gender confusion by facing and healing the emotional issues which foster such struggles—a process he’s been through in his own life.

If LGBT activists get their way, such therapy will be outlawed for children: A bill seeking to ban it (SB 65) has passed the state Senate and awaited House action at this writing. It’s closely connected to what the Education Department is trying to push on the schools, Pickup says.

“Both of these measures are seeking to force LGBT ideology onto everyone,” he says. “This move to let children decide without parents’ knowledge is about propagating the LGBT philosophy and agenda.

“It sounds very nice, very tolerant, very pro-child. But in fact, it hurts children, especially those whose feelings have arisen from sexual or emotional abuse. It denies their own parents the right and the ability to influence the child. It puts big government in the place of the parents. And that’s really dangerous.”

A closer look at Regulation 225 tells the tale.

The text, among other things, says that students “may self-identify gender or race” maintained in school records and may select a “preferred name” to be used in class (though not legal documents) based on a “protected characteristic” such as race, sexual orientation or gender identity.

It adds that parents or legal guardians may be told—but not that they must. When may they be told? Only after school officials consult with the student, determine that the parents are both aware and “supportive of ” the student’s wishes, and decide that telling them won’t be detrimental to the student’s “safety, health or well-being.”

In the hands of those officials, broad terms like that—“well-being”—are loopholes you can drive a truck through, Theis says.

“It doesn’t take much for someone in a government position to determine that you’re not good parents, and that they need to get around you,” she says. “That’s exactly what this regulation was setting parents up for.”

Theis wasn’t surprised. The task force that drafted 225 was largely stacked with LGBT activists and their allies, she noted—including the president of Equality Delaware, the state affiliate of the Human Rights Campaign. And she was familiar with the track record of their programs elsewhere in the country.

“In places like Kansas, for example, young children are given a book called George, the story of a 10-year-old boy who’s hiding his ‘true identity’ until he comes out during a school play,” she says. “The book undermines parents, casting George’s mother as a ‘non-ally.’ Meanwhile, the school principal—whose office is decorated with LGBTQ-affirming posters—saves the day.”

That’s the kind of attitude these programs commonly reflect, Theis says—and that they pass along to children. “That undermining of parents is what has so many people in Delaware so outraged,” she says.

Not that the problems with 225 end there. Among others, there’s no age limit on when children can “self-identify.” And students playing sports can participate on the team they choose, “regardless of the student’s assigned sex at birth”—along with using the showers, restrooms and other facilities.

“They’re simply rejecting biological and chromosomal realities,” Theis says. “For the sake of this idea of ‘inclusion,’ they’re sacrificing truth for everyone—children who are struggling, their parents, other students who value their privacy. They’re determined to wipe out the understanding that gender is the natural expression of biological truth.”

The Resistance Movement

Even before Regulation 225 came down, its backers spread across the state to hold what they called “community conversations” to build support. And when the 30-day clock started running on Nov.1, the folks at Delaware FPC had little time to respond.

But they did respond—notifying their own supporters and reaching out to media outlets from local papers to national conservative and Christian broadcasters.

“By God’s grace, Fox and Friends gave us three minutes to talk about this,” Theis says. “After that, it really exploded. We started hearing from people all over the country.”

But the response was naturally strongest close to home—and when Theis and her staff hit the road to visit communities across Delaware, they saw that firsthand.

“Once people were informed about 225 and could see its language for themselves, the reaction was the same,” she says. “It didn’t matter if we were in a ‘red’ part of the state or a ‘blue’ part, in political categories. There was amazing unity on this issue.”

Especially strong resistance came from Sussex County, where the members of the Indian River School Board wrote to Carney and the Education Board cataloguing their objections—the kind of concerns which might register with state education officials, despite their pro-LGBT ideology. 

For example, the regulation places “the district in direct conflict with students and their parents,” promoting lack of trust and the possibility of lawsuits—and “places the burden of litigation costs solely on the school district and not on the state.”

Then, too, there were practical concerns. “Our bathrooms and locker rooms were constructed to serve multiple people of the same sex,” the board wrote. “Therefore, private space is nearly non-existent. Most schools will be forced to renovate existing bathrooms and locker rooms to provide a higher level of privacy to all students. Once again, the school district will be required to shoulder the burden of the costs for these extensive renovations.”

Indian River board members were well aware of how strongly the local community felt. At its Nov. 27 meeting, opponents of 225 reportedly made up nearly the whole audience, including all the speakers.

And contrary to the charge LGBT advocates often level at their opponents, those grassroots folks showed they weren’t driven by bigotry or hatred.

“Everyone I know focused on parental rights,” says Lou Ann Rieley of Millsboro, Del. “No one I knew was unkind to young people struggling with gender-identity issues. They took a very honorable approach.”

For some, like Rieley, it’s precisely their concern for those young people that makes them feel so strongly. A businesswoman, farmer and homeschooler, she and her husband not only have 12 children, they’ve taken in more than 30 others over the years, for periods of time ranging from weeks to years. For that, she was named Mother of the Year in 2013 by the Delaware Association of American Mothers.

That experience heightens her concern for children in turmoil.

“You see a lot of children who are already confused,” she says. “Their family lives have been chaos. They’ve gone through trauma. They’re looking for something solid. They need concrete answers, they need truth.

“I can’t see how adding confusion about biological reality and social norms throughout history are helping children who are already in such difficult situations.”

Winning the First Round

Personal experience also adds an incentive for another 225 opponent, Ave Mulhern of Milton, Del. She had an older brother who was drawn into homosexuality in his youth; he later contracted HIV, and she helped care for him until he died of AIDS in 1991.

Now three of her grandchildren live in Delaware, none of them older than 9. And she doesn’t want them to be lured down a similar path.

“I’m very concerned with how this is going to affect them,” Mulhern says. “I went to one of these ‘community conversations’ and I couldn’t believe the way we were being railroaded—how they were treating (Regulation 225) not as a question of ‘if this is going to be done,’ but ‘when this is going to be done.’

“It’s not about ‘discrimination’ at all. It’s about indoctrination.”

Mulhern’s reaction to the meetings was shared by many people—some of them in elective office. “Three legislators that we know of attended one of these ‘conversation’ meetings,” Theis says. “They walked out and were absolutely appalled. They saw the manipulation that was taking place.”

And they told their colleagues about it. Fourteen House members wrote to the state Education Department in November urging the members to drop the measure and leave local schools free to handle the issues without a state-imposed policy. One, Rep. Rich Collins (R-Millsboro), said he’d organize a lawsuit against 225, and has several families ready to stand with him.

“The problem is they don’t have any law that authorizes this,” Collins told the Sussex Post in December. “It’s a very simple concept: You have to have a law and then you use regulation to enforce the law.”

In the wake of this widespread backlash, the Education Department took a step back. The question now, however, is where their next steps will go.

After comments closed on Dec. 4—the 30-day period beginning Nov. 1 having been extended a few days due to Thanksgiving weekend—the department announced that the task force behind the policy would meet again in January (on a date unknown at press time). If “substantive changes” are made in the policy, the revised version will be published, triggering another 30-day comment period.

That’s a win in the first round. But there are more rounds to come.

“They pulled back this time, but the LGBT activists won’t quit, and parents are really going to have to be alert,” Theis says.

“We can only hope Gov. Carney will see this policy does more harm than good, and let this be handled on a case-by-case basis. But if they keep pushing this agenda, we’ll do everything we can to stop it.”

The Delaware FPC team will go into that battle better equipped than the first round—with contact info from the 8,000-plus petition signers, many of them new to the organization.

“We’ve never seen any issue unify people from all walks of life as much as this issue of parental rights,” she says. “Parents pushed back in Delaware against a radical ideology, and clearly demonstrated that when they’re alert and engaged, they can make all the difference.”

For More Information:

For updates on the status of Regulation 225, contact information for the Delaware Family Policy Council or to see Theis’ interview with Fox and Friends, visit delawarefamilies.org.

Originally published in the February 2018 issue of Citizen magazine.