Pennsylvania State Rep. Michael Fleck, R-Huntingdon, became the first ever Pennsylvania legislator to publicly state that he is gay on Dec. 1, making him among the first sitting Republican State legislators to do so in the entire country.
He is also the only legislator who currently holds a seat in state office that has openly said he is gay.
Fleck, who was raised a devout Christian, came out publicly in an interview with the Huntingdon Daily News. In the interview, Fleck told the Daily News that the decision to come out was extremely difficult — especially given the public way he chose to do so — but that he is looking forward to continuing his tenure in office as an openly gay man.
“Coming out is hard enough, but doing it in the public eye is definitely something I never anticipated,” Fleck told the 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.”
Before coming out, Fleck sought treatment from a Christian counselor and a secular therapist to try and find a way to understand the relationship between his faith and his sexual orientation. This counseling eventually taught him to embrace his sexuality honestly rather than trying to be a perfect Christian.
Married in 2002, Fleck separated from his wife a year ago and called the divorce “bittersweet,” though the couple remains good friends. Fleck said he believed that in marriage he would be fulfilling God’s will and hoped that this would eventually cause his same-sex attraction to go away.
Fleck also worked as a district executive for the Boy Scouts of America before being elected to office in 2006. Here, he said, his “livelihood depended on hiding [his] true sexual orientation… something [he] was very good at.”
Flecks’ coming out has received an outpouring of praise from Pennsylvania politicians and the LGBTA community alike.
President of the Pennsylvania Federation of College Republicans Anthony Christina had high praise of Fleck, and noted the state representative as having an outstanding conservative voting record, which he does not believe will change despite Fleck’s decision to go public with his homosexuality.
Christina added that his own personal opinion of Fleck has not changed in any way, and that he does not believe it should affect others’ decisions either.
Director of the LGBTA Student Resource Center Allison Subasic called Fleck incredibly brave for coming out, and said she believes it was especially difficult for him given his affiliation with the traditionally conservative Republican Party.
Subasic also noted that Fleck’s coming out will be beneficial for the entire LGBTA community and Pennsylvania as a whole.
“I think, in general, that whenever a public figure comes out, it’s helpful to those who are maybe struggling to do the same, and to those who for some reason or another might be afraid of doing so,” she said.
Centre County Commissioner Michael Pipe called Fleck courageous and said that he has always been in favor of people being true to themselves.
Pipe also noted that Fleck’s coming out, while perceived as untraditional for his Republican Party, is actually a trend he expects to see given the GOP’s tendencies.
“Typically the Republican Party has been about staying away from the personal affairs of people,” Pipe said. “Thus, allowing people to marry who they want would seem to be the natural tendency of the GOP, and so I think it makes sense for them to be in favor of gay rights because it translates to less government intrusion.”
Pipe, however, was speculative that Fleck’s coming out would cause any kind of immediate influx of legislature that would directly benefit the LGBTA community in Pennsylvania, citing that the state governments’ primary objective at the moment remains the economy.
Nevertheless, Pipe said there is a small possibility that chances for such legislation may improve, but doesn’t believe the notion that there is a necessity to have openly gay politicians in government to have that occur.
“It is not as though you need to elect a 51 percent gay majority into office to have gay rights legislation passed,” Pipe said. “Still, my hope is that within my lifetime we will see equal rights for gays throughout in the nation, or at least here in the state of Pennsylvania, and this most certainly is a big step in that direction.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.