A Republican state lawmaker in Pennsylvania came out in an interview a local newspaper published on Saturday.
“Coming out is hard enough, but doing it in the public eye is definitely something I never anticipated,” state Rep. Mike Fleck told the Huntingdon (Pa.) Daily News. “I’m still the exact same person and I’m still a Republican and most importantly, I’m still a person of faith trying to live life as a servant of God and the public. The only difference now is that I will also be doing so as honestly as I know how.”
Fleck, who became an Eagle Scout in 1991, has represented portions of Blair, Huntingdon and Mifflin Counties in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives since voters first elected him in Nov. 2006. The 1995 graduate of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., became a district executive for the Boy Scouts of America once he earned his degree in history with a minor in youth ministry and returned to Huntington County in central Pennsylvania.
The organization in July reaffirmed its ban on out members and openly gay scoutmasters and troop leaders. Fleck told the Huntingdon Daily News his “livelihood depended on hiding my true sexual orientation, something I was very good at.”
The newspaper further reported Fleck suppressed his homosexuality throughout his 20s. He married his wife in 2002 after they dated for two years.
“She was everything I could have ever asked for and to this day she is still my best friend,” Fleck told the Huntingdon Daily News. “I sought out treatment from a Christian counselor, but when that didn’t work out, I engaged a secular therapist who told me point blank that I was gay and that I was too caught up in being the perfect Christian rather than actually being authentic and honest.”
The newspaper reported that Fleck and his wife separated last year — he said they “became closer than ever before, but it was bittersweet as we both concluded that the marriage was over.” Fleck told the Huntingdon Daily News he continues to reconcile his homosexuality with his Christian faith.
“Through years of counseling, I’ve met a lot of gay Christians who have tried hard to change their God-given sexual orientation, but at the end of the day, I know of none who’ve been successful,” he told the newspaper. “They’ve only succeeded at repressing their identity, only to have it reappear time and time again and always wreaking havoc not only on themselves, but especially on their family.”
Fleck came out less than seven months after Philadelphia lawyer Brian Sims became the first openly gay person elected to the state legislature when he won a seat in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. Tim Brown will be the only other openly gay Republican state lawmaker in the country who’s poised to take a seat. He won election to the Ohio House of Representatives on Nov. 6.
Former Massachusetts lieutenant gubernatorial candidate Richard Tisei last month narrowly lost against incumbent Congressman John Tierney.
Fleck did not immediately return the Washington Blade’s requests for comment, but LGBT advocates in Pennsylvania and across the country welcomed his decision to come out.
“It is definitely quite a big deal,” Ted Martin, executive director of Equality Pennsylvania, told the Blade earlier on Monday. “Along with Brian [Sims] we’ll have now two openly gay legislators, so for a state like Pennsylvania that just voted Brian in in May it’s pretty remarkable.”
Victory Fund CEO Chuck Wolfe agreed.
“Coming out is never easy, but coming out in the public eye is particularly difficult,” he said, noting the Victory Fund worked with Fleck through his coming out process. “Representative Fleck made a difficult decision to be honest and open with his constituents and colleagues, and that has the power to change hearts and minds. We applaud his courage.”
“State Representative Mike Fleck is to be commended for his honesty,” Casey Pick of Log Cabin Republicans added. “The journey is never easy, but by coming out Rep. Fleck puts a human face on these issues, demonstrating that you can be a conservative, a person of faith and a good Republican while also a member of the LGBT community. Having an openly gay member of the Republican caucus in Pennsylvania brings us that much closer to achieving freedom and equality under the law.”
Martin said he hopes to discuss efforts to ban anti-LGBT discrimination in Pennsylvania and to fight bullying in the commonwealth with Fleck when they meet in the near future. He noted state law does not protect the newly out lawmaker and other gay Pennsylvanians from housing discrimination based on their sexual orientation.
“My hope is that this will actually in a larger way cause people to talk about issues in Pennsylvania just like that,” he said, specifically referring to anti-bullying and anti-discrimination efforts. “My hope is that it will give people some ability to start saying, you know what, we’ve ignored these issues for long in the legislature and in many different ways in Pennsylvania that we need to start thinking about them.”
Sims, who told the Blade he has spoken with Fleck several times in recent days, stressed the same point.
“Pennsylvania doesn’t have LGBT non-discrimination,” he said. “We’ve seen in some other states that Republicans can get behind the idea of statewide LGBT non-discrimination and I’m hoping that Rep. Fleck gives us an opportunity to really speak directly to the leadership in the state about why this is so important.”