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To Rep. Mike Fleck: 'Come On In, the Water's Fine!'

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Days after the November election, I had an opportunity to explain to a future colleague that although the election may not have been a referendum on all issues that divide the right and left, it was undoubtedly a referendum on the use of anti-LGBT measures as a "wedge" issue to increase Republican turn out at the polls. With the historic elections of out, LGBT officials all over the country, and in offices reaching as high as the U.S. Senate, as well as four marriage initiative wins at the ballot box, it's clear that whether the right still believes its anti-gay rhetoric or not, the ability to use it as a means to gain majority votes is a thing of the past.

It is with this knowledge that I happily invited the news that my colleague in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, Mike Fleck, came out of the closet this weekend, making him one of just a handful of Republican elected officials to do so, and likely the only one currently serving in office. I've been asked a lot about his announcement and while I'm certain there will be more conversations in the future, I wanted to take just a quick moment to address it.

First, I hope that this moment can help each of us reflect on our own personal lives and the many trails we travel. As they say, "life is a journey" and we are all entitled to walk our own paths, at our own pace. Coming out is a process that is different for everyone. Over the entirety of our lives we all struggle to better know ourselves -- gay, straight or otherwise -- and we should be encouraging and supportive of those who have the courage to be true to themselves.

The representative is an honorable man who has served his community well, and while I may disagree with him on a number of policy issues, if we are ever going to claw our way back out of this awful partisan divide that so many of our politicians have thrust us into, it's going to have to start with finding places of mutual respect and common ground. This is the perfect place to start.

Casting aspersions, questioning motives, and creating an unsafe space for anyone to come out in are not what we as Democrats or the progressive community are about, nor should it be for Republicans and conservatives. This was a difficult decision, and I applaud Rep. Fleck for his honestly. My hope is that as the representative begins his life as an out, proud gay man, his Republican and my conservative Democratic colleagues will see firsthand that the protections that we seek for our communities are not "special rights" but basic human rights; not about demanding more, but about refusing anything less than the rights and freedoms that are granted to all other Americans.

For too long we've asked that the Republican Party respect our civil rights, treat the LGBT community as full citizens, and protect us from some of the most rampant and dangerous discrimination faced by anyone in today's America, all to no avail. Here in Pennsylvania we lack even the most basic LGBT civil rights protections. Nevertheless, I am hopeful that with a new LGBT Caucus, one that may now have members from both parties, we can begin to work toward a more perfect union and actually gain the equality that Republicans and Democrats in our neighboring states of New York, New Jersey and Maryland have been able to achieve.

Please always remember that it is a brighter day when any of us feels capable of casting off oppression, turning away from fear and shame, and is able to embrace their authentic self. Rep. Fleck deserves to be treated with respect, as do all people, and I ask that you please temper any frustrations and remain true to your better angels. Give Rep. Fleck the time and space that any of us would ask for in the days after we came out and remain hopeful, as I am, that this is a wonderful sign that LGBT Pennsylvanians are one step closer to having our lives, our jobs, our families, and our communities, respected and protected across the Commonwealth.

Let's show the haters, the naysayers, the cynics and the critics all across the country that honesty is rewarded, integrity widespread, and an open mind and an open heart will always carry the day against fear, judgment and contempt.