Maybe he should have just stayed in the closet.
That was the general feeling of State Sen. John H. Eichelberger (R-Blair) when asked about State Rep. Mike Fleck’s battle for his political life in last week's primary.
"A lot of people thought that Mike was a homosexual," Eichelberger said. "He didn't announce it and it was OK. The feeling from many people is, he put them in a very uncomfortable position."
Fleck, a Republican who has represented Huntingdon County in the Pennsylvania State House since 2006, came out as gay in 2012 after a long personal struggle—and became the first openly gay member of the Pennsylvania General Assembly.
Since then, Fleck has been basically the same person (except for, in some cases, attaching his name to LGBT-centric bills, like non-discrimination) but it was obvious from the get-go that his coming out may affect his career in politics. He said as much early on, a New York Times profile last year made it clear, and his race against write-in candidate Rich Irvin has been marred in anti-gay rhetoric—even though Fleck said he went out of his way to play down the issue.
“I took great care to not seek out endorsements from ‘so called gay groups.’ I didn’t want to give my opposition any room to criticize where my donations came from. But I was naïve, it didn’t matter,” Fleck wrote on his Facebook page on May 21.
Fleck took a check for $92.61 from the Log Cabin Republican chapter of Pennsylvania, a conservative LGBT group. That check was “used against me time and again as anonymous callers would call our local paper to be featured in the infamous Saturday “opinion line”… a place where you can say anything, fact or fiction and it will be reported without [your] name. I know it sounds pretty unbelievable but it happens every week, much to the sad amusement of us all,” he continued in a written note on his official social media page.
The Pennsylvania Family Institute (who condemned last week’s marriage equality ruling in a PA District Court, numerous times) held a rally in Huntingdon before the election, and Eichelberger helped promote the event. Much of the rally took note of Fleck’s support of the non-discrimination bill, he wrote, with the age-old argument that a non-discrimination bill would allow men in women’s bathrooms.
“Yep,” wrote Fleck. “Sick perverted minds automatically go there.”
But there may be a silver lining. Fleck reportedly lost his bid against write-in challenger Rich Irvin, but managed to win the Democratic nomination via write-in. He won the nomination by 15 votes; the tallies will likely be challenged in court.
That this is a historic week in Pennsylvania LGBT history is not lost on us. Last Tuesday's ruling by Judge Jones III was a gigantic win for Pennsylvanians. But it's going to take time for certain people in this state and others to come to terms with reality. That an elected member of the state Senate is so comfortable with telling his fellow Republican colleague that living a lie would have been better for his career tells us this fight for LGBT rights in this state is hardly over.