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Republican Pa. state lawmaker comes out

Fleck says he’s still ‘a servant of God and the public’

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Mike Fleck, Pennsylvania, gay news, Washington Blade
Mike Fleck, Pennsylvania, gay news, Washington Blade

Pennsylvania state Rep. Mike Fleck (Photo courtesy of www.repfleck.com)

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.”

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Mick Cerra

    December 5, 2012 at 10:12 am

    I was born in Pa.-so were my parents, and it is shameful that the right wing reactionaries are in control of the state legislatures who continue to cut our insurance benefits; medicaid assistance at the local level and attempting to cut our insurances of Social Security and medicare(which will be for everybody)
    at the national level. You republicon legislatures are not our adversaries, you are the enemy.The war is on,but it will not take violence to succeed. You must and will be banished from the offices that you hold and the corporate power mongers that you are beholden to. American will begin to move toward a democracy. You can label me, catorgorize me, try to marginalize me, but I am going to keep on coming and fight until the mean spirited avaricious plutocrats are restored to their commsensurate influence in my country. The more they try to take from the poor and middle classes, the strong and swifter will the backlash be. I will fight for my insurance benefits by whatever means necessary.

  2. Mick Cerra

    December 5, 2012 at 3:42 pm

    please email me to let me know about my comments. and I take it from there!

    • Mick Cerra

      May 6, 2013 at 1:23 am

      You don't have a monoploly on God, what it means to be an American, or to maipulate, lie, cheat just to win!!!

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Meet the new LGBTQ liaison for the Democratic National Committee

Sam Alleman joins DNC after work in abortion rights movement

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Sam Alleman joins the DNC after working at Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

The new LGBTQ liaison for the Democratic National Committee comes from a background not in LGBTQ advocacy, but in the abortion rights movement, and sees the two as working “hand in hand” for a common cause.

Sam Alleman, who started Monday as LGBTQ coalitions director for the DNC, said in an interview with the Washington Blade that his previous job as political outreach manager for five years at the Planned Parenthood Action Fund will inform his LGBTQ work going forward.

“The reproductive rights movement goes hand in hand with what we’ve been fighting for in the LGBTQ equality and equity movement as well,” Alleman said. “There is no being LGBTQ without your ability to have bodily autonomy and to make those same choices.”

The relationship between the LGBTQ movement and abortion rights may be more pronounced in the coming months: A national battle is taking place over a Texas law banning abortion in the state for any woman pregnant for more than six weeks as the U.S. Supreme Court will consider litigation with the potential to overturn Roe v. Wade. LGBTQ legal advocates, faced with a term at the Supreme Court with no major cases specific to LGBTQ rights, are already turning their focus to the abortion cases.

“I think that the gender equity lens here, as we move toward building out that permanent infrastructure that really brings all of those things together through more of a social justice lens, will be absolutely critical to being successful, particularly speaking to our younger demographics, to making sure trans and queer people feel included in a way that’s actually equitable and just,” Alleman said.

Alleman identified two key priorities for him in his new role at the DNC — turning out LGBTQ voters for Democratic candidates and building an internal infrastructure for the LGBTQ community — and said his previous work at Planned Parenthood Action Fund working with candidates and coalition groups will help him reach that goal.

“I really plan to use a lot of the lessons that I learned there in building out to making an inclusive campaign, both in programs and in voter contact infrastructure, within the party itself as well,” Alleman said.

Alleman, reiterating he was still in the first days of his job, said the process for building out the LGBTQ community infrastructure at the DNC is still in its initial phases. Alleman said his vision would be not only turning out LGBTQ voters, but finding a way that “allows them to plug in as volunteers and leaders within the party to do the voter contact to hold the events on the ground, to work with our state party partners, and making sure that their voices are represented.”

Key to building out that infrastructure, Alleman said, would be making sure all voices within the LGBTQ community are heard. Alleman made a special point to say queer and transgender people “who have been our partners for so long and deserve a seat at the table” will be an essential part of the infrastructure.

The voice of LGBTQ people, Alleman said, will be increasingly important in elections as the numbers of voters who identify as LGBTQ increase. Pointing to 2020 exit polls showing 7 percent of the electorate identified as LGBTQ, Alleman said more LGBTQ people than ever turned out in the presidential election and overwhelmingly backed Biden by 61 percent. (Republicans were also able to claim a small victory, having doubled their share of LGBTQ voters from 14 percent to 28 percent who voted for Donald Trump after the previous election.)

“We know that that demographic is only growing,” Alleman said. “Within under 18 year olds, approximately 16 percent of folks identify as LGBTQ in this country. So really my priorities are building out an infrastructure here at the DNC, that will turn out LGBTQ voters for Democratic candidates as they become a larger and larger subsection of our voting population.”

Alleman joins the Democratic National Committee days before a Virginia gubernatorial election observers see as a national bellwether for upcoming congressional midterm elections. Terry McAuliffe, a Democratic former governor who said in a interview with the Blade his opponent is the “most homophobic, anti-choice” candidate in Virginia history, is running against Glenn Youngkin, who said recently he continues to oppose same-sex marriage but “will support” the law.

Polls show an exceedingly close race in a state President Biden won handily in the presidential election. An Emerson College/Nexstar Media poll found the race is a dead heat and McAuliffe and Youngkin are tied with 48-48 percent each. The election is Tuesday.

Asked what he sees as his role in the closing days of the Virginia election, Alleman reiterated he was still on Day One of his role at the DNC, but believes Democrats are “doing everything possible to turn out different constituency groups for Terry McAuliffe and Democrats, up and down the ballot in Virginia.”

“My role as I start to step in here is really working to make sure that our national partner organizations are doing everything possible to turn out that book as we head into GOTV, and be a partner to them as they drive their supporters out to make sure that we’re not leaving anything on the table come next Tuesday when we elect Terry McAuliffe governor of Virginia again,” Alleman said.

Lucas Acosta, a spokesperson for the DNC who joined in on the interview with Alleman, said the DNC is working with groups such as the Human Rights Campaign (his former employer) to highlight the records of both Virginia candidates.

“I think what happened last week — Youngkin’s comments on same-sex marriage — are concerning,” Acosta said. “That’s definitely something that we are going to continue to highlight in the closing days of the campaign. That obviously is just a further example why Youngkin is not the moderate he purports to be, but rather a Trump acolyte, who is going to turn back time on rights for a litany of Virginians, including LGBTQ folks.”

Democrats have enjoyed an advantage as a result of the sea change in support in favor of LGBTQ rights. But things may be beginning to shift as LGBTQ issues change and move away from same-sex marriage to other battlegrounds, such as transgender people participating in school sports consistent with their gender identity.

Washington Post columnist James Hohmann reported this week on new data from the National Republican Senatorial Committee finding gender and race issues play out in favor of Republicans among suburban voters, if they’re on terms like critical race theory or concepts like “genderism.” According to the data, 65 percent said “allowing biological males to compete against women in high school and college sports is hugely unfair and will erase many of the gains women have made in athletics over the last 50 years.”

Just this week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law House Bill 25, which effectively bars transgender girls from participating in school sports consistent with their gender identity, making the Lone Star State the latest state to enact such a measure in defiance of federal laws against discrimination based on sex.

Alleman, asked whether the DNC would change the way it approaches these issues, said he wasn’t aware of the data and questioned whether the conclusion of the data “really makes much sense.”

“I think we’ll at least continue to push forward the message of what we’ve done as Democrats which is fight for these individuals to be treated just the same as everyone else,” Alleman said.

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State Department to issue passports with ‘X’ gender marker

Special LGBTQ rights envoy celebrates ‘significant step’

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(Public domain photo)

The State Department on Wednesday is expected to issue the first U.S. passport with an “X” gender marker.

Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ rights abroad, on Tuesday told the Washington Blade and the Associated Press during a conference call the State Department will initially issue a gender-neutral passport to one person.

Stern said the State Department will begin “offering the ‘X’ gender marker option to routine passport applicants” in early 2022. A State Department official said the delay is necessary because the U.S. Office of Management and Budget needs to approve “the required form updates.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken in June announced the State Department will allow passport applicants to “self-select their gender as ‘M’ or ‘F'”

People who identify as intersex, non-binary or gender non-conforming can choose a gender-neutral gender marker for their passports and Consular Report of Birth Abroad, a document that confirms an American who was born overseas is a U.S. citizen. The new policy that Blinken announced in June no longer requires “medical certification if an applicant’s self-selected gender does not match the gender on their other citizenship or identity documents.”

“Offering a third gender marker is a significant step towards ensuring that our administrative systems account for the diversity of gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics,” said Stern during the conference call. “Because people do not always fit within a male or a female designation, it doesn’t benefit anyone to have inconsistencies between people and systems.”

Stern added passports with an “X” gender marker will “reflect the true gender of the passport holder and make people safer, hopefully by reducing the likelihood of dehumanizing harassment and mistreatment that so often happens at border crossings when a person’s legal documentation does not correspond with their gender expression.”

“When a person obtains identity documents that reflect their true identity, they live with greater dignity and respect,” said Stern.

The State Department’s announcement comes a day after it publicly acknowledged Intersex Awareness Day, which commemorates the world’s first-ever intersex rights protect that took place in Boston in 1996.

Dana Zzyym, an intersex U.S. Navy veteran who identifies as non-binary, in 2015 filed a federal lawsuit against the State Department after it denied their application for a passport with an “X” gender marker. The State Department official with whom the Blade spoke on Tuesday declined to say whether Zzyym is the first person who will receive a gender-neutral passport in the U.S.

“The department does not generally comment on individual passport applications due to privacy considerations,” said the official.

Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ rights abroad. (Photo courtesy of OutRight Action International)

President Biden in February signed a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad.

The White House in June named Stern, who had previously been the executive director of OutRight Action International, a global LGBTQ advocacy group, to her position. Stern said the issuance of passports with “X” gender markers demonstrates the Biden administration’s commitment to LGBTQ rights.

“I am proud that the United States seeks to protect and promote the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons globally and this is an excellent example of leading by example,” said Stern.

Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Argentina are among the handful of other countries that issue gender-neutral passports.

The State Department official said their colleagues have “been coordinating with Canada and New Zealand on best practices as we work towards this goal, based on their experiences.” They said the State Department has also “coordinated with several LGBTQI+ organizations, both directly and through the White House Domestic Policy Council, throughout this process.”

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State Department acknowledges Intersex Awareness Day

Special LGBTQ rights envoy moderated activist roundtable

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State Department (public domain photo)

The State Department on Tuesday acknowledged the annual Intersex Awareness Day.

“We proudly recognize the voices and human rights of intersex people around the world,” said State Department spokesperson Ned Price in a statement. “The Department of State is committed to promoting and protecting the rights, dignity, and equality of all individuals, including intersex persons.”

Price in his statement said U.S. foreign policy seeks to “pursue an end to violence and discrimination on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and sex characteristics, while acknowledging the intersections with disability, race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, or other status.” Price also acknowledged intersex people “are subject to violence, discrimination, and abuse on the basis of their sex characteristics” and “many intersex persons, including children, experience invasive, unnecessary, and sometimes irreversible medical procedures.” 

“The department supports the empowerment of movements and organizations advancing the human rights of intersex persons and the inclusion of intersex persons in the development of policies that impact their enjoyment of human rights,” he said.

Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ rights abroad, on Tuesday moderated a virtual panel with intersex activists from around the world.

Intersex Awareness Day commemorates the world’s first-ever intersex protest that took place in Boston on Oct. 26, 1996.

Dana Zzyym, an intersex U.S. Navy veteran who identifies as non-binary, in 2015 filed a federal lawsuit against the State Department after it denied their application for a passport with their sex listed as “X.” The State Department in June announced it would begin to issue gender-neutral passports and documents for American citizens who were born overseas.

The U.S. and more than 50 other countries earlier this month signed a statement that urges the U.N. Human Rights Council to protect the rights of intersex people.

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