Republican Pa. lawmaker announces he’s gay

Posted: December 02, 2012

A Republican lawmaker from rural central Pennsylvania, who describes himself as a conservative Christian, made history as the first openly gay member of the state legislature.

Rep. Mike Fleck, 39, of Huntingdon, disclosed that he is gay in an interview with the Huntingdon Daily News that was published Saturday.

Fleck, who recently separated from his wife of almost a decade, told the newspaper that he struggled with his sexuality for years and hopes his openness will help others better understand the journey people have to take to live an authentic life.

"Coming out is hard enough, but doing it in the public eye is definitely something I never anticipated," he said.

It was unclear why the three-term lawmaker, believed to be only the second openly gay Republican legislator in the country, decided to come out now.

The Pennsylvania General Assembly will swear in another openly gay lawmaker in January. Philadelphia attorney Brian Sims, who beat longtime Rep. Babette Josephs in the Democratic primary, ran unopposed for her Center City seat in November.

Fleck, who through a friend said he was not interested in discussing his decision any further at this time, told the newspaper his announcement has not changed the fact he remains a fiscal conservative and a Christian.

"I'm still the exact same person and I am still a Republican and, most importantly, I am still a person of faith trying to live life as a servant of God and the public.," he said. "The only difference now is that I will also be doing so as honestly as I know how."

He told the paper he waited until after the election lest the news become a distraction during the campaign.

Fleck represents the 81st district, which sits squarely in the "T" in the central part of the state, encompassing parts of Blair, Huntingdon and Mifflin counties and where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats two-to-one.

Fleck, who attended Christian schools and graduated from Liberty University, founded by evangelical leader Jerry Falwell, said he spent years in therapy trying to reconcile his homosexuality with his faith.

Before being elected Fleck, an Eagle Scout, had been employed as a regional director of the Boy Scouts of America, which bars gay youths as members and prohibits gay troop leaders. He said that job contributed to his difficulty in making his sexual identity known.

Gay rights groups and legislative Democrats applauded the decision.

"We're so happy he's chosen to come out," said Jason Goodman, a Penn graduate student and executive director of the Pennsylvania Student Equality Coalition, which has been working with Fleck on anti-bullying legislation." Young people can be inspired that a state representative has come out and recognized that people come from every community in state."

Steve Miskin, the spokesman for House Republican leaders, said the announcement doesn't change anything as far as they are concerned and said the caucus is "proud to have him as a member."

In recent years Republicans have tried to advance legislation that would ban same-sex marriage in the state Constitution and blocked gay rights bills such as including sexual preference in the hate crimes law, and adding sexual orientation in the state law banning discrimination in employment and housing.

"I firmly believe that this announcement shows how far Pennsylvania has come," said Rep. Dan Frankel (D., Allegheny), sponsor of the nondiscrimination bill. "The legislature, which is so often far behind the public, is finally coming to reflect the prevailing sentiment among Pennsylvanians - that people's sexual orientation simply doesn't impact their ability to do their job and should not negate their basic rights.

Contact Amy Worden at 717-783-2584 or aworden@phillynews.com or follow @inkyamy on Twitter.

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