Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
Advocates are applauding Republican state House Rep. Mike Fleck for coming out as gay over the weekend to his local newspaper, a move they see as the potential start of the General Assembly catching up to increasingly tolerant voters.
But Equality Pennsylvania director Ted Martin said in the short term, the Huntingdon County Republican shouldn’t get a barrage of questions about his stance on LGBT legislation.
“Representative Fleck deserves a little bit of breathing space and a lot of respect for his integrity in doing that,” said Martin, of Fleck’s decision to come out. “I hope people – constituents, the media, a lot of folks – will give him the ability to adjust. I mean, this is a pretty significant thing.”
In the long term, though, Martin and others are eyeing Fleck as a possible ally in the House GOP who may be able to bring with him support from other Republicans. He cited one bill introduced last session to ensure workplace and housing protections for LGBT Pennsylvanians. The measure languished in committee, bolstering Martin’s opinion that the commonwealth is something of a backwater for not extending anti-discrimination protections to LGBT citizens.
“Representative Fleck, if he was renting a house in his district, and his landlord was now offended he was gay, could evict him, and there’s nothing that would stop him from doing that,” said Martin. “If Representative Fleck has another job, and his employer was offended he was gay, he could fire him, and there’s nothing to prevent him from doing that.”
Fleck’s decision to come out means there will be two openly gay representatives in the state House next year. The Huntingdon County Republican joins Philadelphia Democrat Brian Sims, who will be sworn in next year as the first openly gay House lawmaker ever elected. Martin called the two firsts a significant change, and potentially the beginning of a new conversation about advancing LGBT issues at the Capitol.
“I want to give him time to adjust,” said Martin of Fleck. “But certainly I hope he would be more sensitive and open to talking about the issues as time moves forward and helping us to make the case in a different way, in a far different way, in Harrisburg.”
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