Delaware state Rep. Earl Jaques (D-Glasgow) apologized last week for comments he made in a news article criticizing his opponent in the state’s 2020 House election for hosting a drag show campaign fundraiser.
“Recently, I made comments in an interview that were insensitive, hurtful, and simply wrong,” Jaques wrote on his Facebook Oct. 23, adding, “It is wrong to attempt to pass judgment or impose one person’s belief structure onto others. My job as a State Representative is to represent all constituents of the 27th District, regardless of gender, race, creed, orientation or identity, period.”
Jaques recently spoke with the Delaware News Journal for an article about progressive candidates in the state attempting to displace Democratic incumbents in the political arena. In the piece, Jaques, who was first elected in 2008, criticized his out gay opponent Eric Morrison for holding the campaign fundraiser that doubled as a drag show.
“That is so far off-base for our district, it’s unbelievable,” Jaques told Delaware News Journal in the interview. “You wonder what the point is. You can have fundraisers; I don’t care about that. But dressing in drag? Really?”
He then questioned whether Morrison could represent community members who attend the many churches in his district.
"I’m not sure he represents the people who attend those places of religion,” Jaques added. “If he’s actually having a fundraiser in drag, I don’t think those churches would endorse that. … I’m just saying it’s a little different, that’s for sure.”
Morrison, 45, has performed drag for 27 years. He told PGN that when he first learned of Jaques’ comments, he was “a little taken aback” because of how strongly his opponent had deviated from the issues of the election.
“For him to take up so much of his space, so to speak, in that article to criticize us for a fundraiser, I just thought was odd and just not what should be focused on,” Morrison added.
Delaware House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, Majority Leader Rep. Valerie Maglio Longhurst and Majority Whip Rep. Larry Mitchell issued a joint statement Oct. 23 opposing Jaques’ comments and reaffirming the legislative body’s commitment to the LGBTQ community.
"As leaders of the House Democratic Caucus, we have taken great pride in supporting landmark legislation establishing and strengthening protections for Delawareans regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity,” the statement reads. “We remain committed to protecting the rights and equality for all residents, and part of that is addressing shortcomings or issues when they arise.”
The three “appreciate” Jaques’ apology and spoke with him to express their disagreement “both as legislators and as Delawareans who celebrate our state’s diversity and inclusiveness,” they added.
While Morrison appreciates his opponent’s apology, he said it didn’t go far enough.
“When you put the words together along with the past votes, it’s all still very disturbing to me,” Morrison said.
In 2013, Jaques voted against a bill that would allow same-sex marriage in Delaware. In 2017, he didn’t cast a vote on legislation that would prohibit conversion therapy on LGBTQ youth. Jaques voted against another bill the same year that removed outdated, unenforceable abortion prohibitions in the state code that clashed with rights protected in the 1973 Supreme Court ruling Roe v. Wade.
Morrison said having lawmakers who make comments like Jaques’ is dangerous because of how it can impact LGBTQ youth and people considering coming out.
“They see things like that, and it affects them, and it makes them feel more isolated, less apt to come out of the closet,” he added. “Of course we know that LGBT youth have much higher rates of suicide and self-harm and homelessness and drug and alcohol addiction, and those words contribute to that directly.”
Morrison has championed visibility of Delaware’s LGBTQ community for almost three decades, he told PGN, including by serving as a former president for Delaware Pride and fundraising for nonprofit The Rainbow Chorale of Delaware and Wilmington-based testing center AIDS Delaware. He said this representation would continue to shine through if elected next year.
“By being out, being open, being well known in the community and then serving in the legislature, I think that will serve [so that] people can look at me and say, ‘Hey, there’s a positive representation of me,” Morrison said.
He emphasized that having out politicians is especially vital in the nation’s current political climate.
“Elected bodies should look like and be made up of the people they serve, so it is important to have that diversity,” Morrison said, adding, “We have a lot of great allies, but I think it’s important to have a voice at the table.”