HARRISBURG - Pennsylvania state Rep. Mike Fleck, a devout Christian who disclosed to a local newspaper that he is gay, is among the country's first sitting Republican state legislators who is openly gay and currently the only one in office, according to a national advocacy group for gay and lesbian public officials.
The 39-year-old Huntingdon resident described a long and painful personal journey that included seeking treatment from a Christian counselor and a divorce from his wife in interviews with The Daily News of Huntingdon County published Saturday and the Mirror published Sunday.
In the months before he spoke to the newspaper, Fleck had sought advice from the Washington-based Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute on how to come out.
The group encouraged him to do it in a way that let constituents know that he was choosing to be as honest as he could and nothing about who he is or what he believes is changing, institute spokesman Denis Dison said Monday.
"This is a person who has been living, as a lot of people do, in fear of being found out and when you decide that you're not going to live that way anymore, it's an incredibly brave thing to do," Dison said. "Time will tell how his constituents react."
Fleck represents a conservative district between Altoona and State College. While coming out will take a burden off Fleck's shoulders, Dison said, it could hurt his political career, especially considering the conservative nature of Fleck's district.
Fleck told the Mirror on Saturday night that he had been working toward the decision for months, and the day after the initial article was published was "the most incredible day of my life."
A spokesman for Fleck said Monday he would not respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press. Fleck has been bombarded with emails, calls and messages from across the world and almost all have been positive, said the spokesman, Jeff Jubelirer.
Dison, who spoke to Fleck, said he has gotten a lot of support from the House GOP leadership and his colleagues.
A spokesman for House Republican leaders said Fleck called them before the story was published to let them know about his decision. The spokesman, Steve Miskin, declined to offer any details about the conversation, saying only that Fleck's decision does not change the fact that he is a respected member of the Republican caucus.
No other Republican state legislator anywhere who is in office now is openly gay, Dison said. State senators who served in the past in California and Minnesota came out while in office, and a Republican state representative in Missouri came out before he left office at the end of that state's legislative term in May. An openly gay Republican elected to the Ohio House will be sworn in in January.
Fleck also became the first and only current legislator from either party in Pennsylvania's Legislature who is openly gay. In the next legislative session, he will be joined by Rep.-elect Brian Sims, an openly gay Democrat from Philadelphia.