State Rep. Mike Fleck (R-Huntingdon) publicly acknowledged Saturday that he is gay, making him the first openly gay lawmaker in Pa. and the only* currently sitting openly gay Republican state legislator in the entire country.
In a deeply personal story by the Huntingdon Daily News (subscription), Fleck, a devout Christian, explained the difficult road to his announcement.
“Coming out is hard enough, but doing it in the public eye is definitely something I never anticipated,” he said. “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.”
He said his party affiliation remains strong.
“The Republican party is all about the government needing to stay out of people’s lives,” Fleck said. “I’m not a one-issue person and it’s not a one-issue party.”
More of his testimonial from the Daily News is below.
Fleck, 39, has a resume that would impress Republicans anywhere. An Eagle Scout by age 18, he graduated from Liberty University in 1995 and worked professionally for the Boy Scouts of America as a district executive in Huntingdon County from 1999 to 2004. He was married in 2002.
In the legislature he’s been a moderate Republican; he was targeted by the conservative Citizens Alliance for Pennsylvania in 2011. However, aside a few votes in committees where Fleck doesn’t serve, there haven’t been significant votes on gay rights issues during his tenure.
He and his wife separated about a year ago; they do not have children.
He will be joined in Pa. in January by Brian Sims of Philadelphia. The Democratic attorney is the first openly gay candidate to run and win office in Pa.; he ousted Rep. Babette Josephs (D-Phila) in April.
Ted Martin is Executive Director of Equality Pa., the state’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy organization. He says Fleck is now the only openly gay Republican legislator in the nation, although another will take office in Ohio in January. Former Missouri Republican Rep. Zach Wyatt is also openly gay.*
“There’s an opportunity here to have an open discussion in a new way,” Martin said. “There’s a real live voice to talk about it inside the Capitol, inside the Republican caucus. I hope Representative Fleck will want to work with us.”
“I respect his process, respect that this isn’t easy,” said Martin, who came out at age 32. “I would hope people respect his integrity and his privacy.”
There’s no conceivable political upside to the announcement in Fleck’s district which is one of the most conservative in the state. Registered Republicans outnumber Democrats nearly 2-1.
Fleck won a four-way primary for the seat of outgoing Rep. Larry Sather in 2006 and was unopposed for re-election this year. The 81st district comprises most of Huntingdon County with parts of Blair and Mifflin. Under the new map expected to be in place for 2014, he will have a slightly more moderate district: all of Huntingdon, a smaller part of Mifflin and a part of Centre County in the suburbs of State College.
*The original version of this story reported that Fleck was the first openly gay GOP state lawmaker in the country; that was based on two interviews but is not the case.
Here is more of the Huntingdon Daily News story:
After college, Fleck returned home to southern Huntingdon County, purchased his grandfather’s farm and found himself working as district executive for the Boy Scouts of America. He’d been extensively involved in the program in his youth, was once named Scout of the Year and, during his senior year at SHCHS, earned the distinction of Eagle Scout.
As an executive for the organization, Fleck said “now my livelihood depended on hiding my true sexual orientation, something I was very good at.”
He continued that during his 20s, he firmly believed what he’s been taught, that homosexuality was a choice and so never felt in great conflict because he’d learned to suppress his feelings.
“I wanted to live a ‘normal’ life and raise a family,” Fleck said. “I also believed that by marrying, I was fulfilling God’s will and I thought my same-sex attraction would simply go away.
In fall 2000, Fleck met his future wife and they immediately clicked.
“She was everything I could have ever asked for and to this day she is still my best friend,” he said.
While his professional dreams were becoming reality, Fleck said he was also weathering personal battles, namely his same-sex attraction which, contrary to all he believed and was taught, remained.
“So I just prayed harder and put it in God’s hands,” he said, adding that as one of the county’s most visible couples, the unresolved feelings and pressure of public scrutiny took its toll and Fleck opted for therapy.
“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,” Fleck said.
He said the hardest part of the process has been reconciling his faith with his sexuality.
“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 said. “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 said once he was able to be honest with himself, he could finally be honest with others, because no one in his life had any clue about his personal struggle, not even his wife.
“My wife and I became closer than ever before but it was bittersweet as we both concluded that the marriage was over,” he said. Fleck moved out in the summer of 2011 and his wife bought a house that fall.
Fleck stressed he is still the same representative the residents of the 81st District elected in 2006 and have since reelected.
“I don’t see anything changing in my life, I don’t see my voting pattern changing,” Fleck said. “I just want to do my very best for the 81st District. I’m just trying to be authentic and I do owe it to my constituency to do that.”