A Republican Christian right-of-center state representative from a conservative Pennsylvania district has come outand some in our community have reacted like the sky has fallen in. This is a good thing! Let's look at the issues one at a time.
Rep. Mike Fleck is the first out Pennsylvania state lawmaker. At the same time, Rep.-elect Brian Sims is the first out person to be elected to the state House. He takes office in January and, with Fleck, will be the state's only two out state representatives.
He's a Republican. So what? Have you noticed that we as a community are not all the same? Are all Jews the same? African-Americans? Catholics? There are gay Republicans. And there is no shame in embracing our Republican brothers and sisters, as long as they stand for equality. Being a Republican is no different than having a different religion.
So let's see where he stands on other issues. Since most of our political community is progressive, here is a place where he might differ with many of us, but one can agree to disagree and still work towards equality. Some attach other issues to our own, and that is a decision that each of us must make, but it's not always a position of the community at large. For instance, I consider myself a feministshould I not work with those who are not?
If anyone has a problem with his being a Christian, you're not a good partner in the fight for equality. Now, there are degrees and different kinds of Christians, but the fact that he has publicly come out makes a statement in itself. We of all people believe in freedom of religion. We also believe that religion should not step on our rights.
He's conservative. Again, so what? In fact, this is the strongest argument to support him. He may very well be able to reach those we cannot or have not. He speaks their language. With some luck, and after he gets over the spotlight and the problems his caucus might give him, he may very well be able to get us the Republican votes we need.
Full disclosure: I do not know Fleck, nor do I believe I've met him. In the last few days, those who do know him tell me he's a decent guy and well-liked in Harrisburg. And if you've read the account of his decision to come out, it seems to have been a hard, rocky road.
Fleck did something very brave, as all elected officials do when they come out or when they run as out candidates. They all need to be embraced. We are a welcoming community and not one with only one stripe.
We also should not be putting any pressure on this man at this time. After all, he is a man with much on his plate. He's dealing with his family, friends, coworkers and an enormous amount of media attention. Allow him the time to come to terms with all this.
While we do not know what or how this will affect future legislation, we do know that the Republican Party now has one of its own to put a face on the LGBT community.
And that is a very good thing.
Mark Segal is publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .