If you’ve read “PA’s first out lawmaker, one year later” on the front page of this paper, there are two points that should jump out at you and give you pause: First, Pennsylvania has two out state representatives, one Democrat and one Republican. With pride, we are the only state that can claim that. Also of note in the story, a gay-rights organization actually tried to keep a gay man in the closet. Since day one of the movement for equality, we have fought for people to be out. If this is true, this organization should hang its head in shame. While I won’t ponder the reasons for, or even the evils of, that action, I will discuss the two aforementioned legislators.
They are Brian Sims (D) and Mike Fleck (R), and both are up for re-election next year. For me, it’s simple: We as a community need to support both for re-election. Imagine the statement if two out representatives — one from a progressive district, one from a conservative district — are re-elected. That sends an incredibly powerful message to Harrisburg and has to send a shiver through a political party that has not always cared about our rights. Now, as for the two out candidates …
Sims represents the most progressive district in the commonwealth. It is overwhelmingly Democrat. Therefore, if he wins the primary, he faces only token opposition from any Republican. Let’s be clear: There is little chance of any serious challenge to Sims. The popularity of his victory is a matter of pride for the community and, thus, any challenger faces a future of resentment from the LGBT community. This is not about Sims; his re-election is a validation of the LGBT community and what it has built. Anyone considering a run against Sims, 2014 is not the time. Anyone who does so should not be coming to my door in the future for support, and I’m sure many in the community feel the same.
Fleck represents one of the most rural, conservative districts in the commonwealth. His bravery in coming out is only surpassed by his support of equality while in the legislature, before he outed himself. While many Republicans were outed by their own hypocrisy, Fleck proudly fought to out himself. It is sad that one of our own community organizations kept him from doing so earlier. Imagine the anguish that created. He is respected by his colleagues of both parties. He has serious re-election challengers, from where you’d expect — the right wing. Fleck’s victory would go a long way for tolerance and equality. Think of it, an out gay man elected in a conservative district … That is a strong message.
The point is that while one candidate is a Democrat and one is a Republican, those of you who support one party over the other, as I do, might have differences with the other party, but that should not prevent us as a community from finally becoming pragmatic about our politics. If we do not have people who support our goal of equality in office, we’ll never gain equality. You cannot pass legislation with only one party. It takes both Democrats and Republicans to pass legislation. It is easier to be elected as an openly gay Democrat than as a Republican. That is why Sims’ reelection is assured, and why the right wing is attempting to unseat Fleck.
This is a time for us to unite as a community.
Mark Segal, PGN publisher, is the nation’s most-award-winning commentator in LGBT media. He can be reached at [email protected].