This afternoon during a press conference to discuss proposed Hate Crimes legislation, State Senator Jim Ferlo came out. The 63-year-old long-time public servant and reliable progressive is due to retire at the end of this term.
Ferlo spoke for five minutes about a proposal he sponsors to amend the law. Then he asked the audience to allow him a “personal comment.” He paused.
“…I am gay,” said Ferlo.
“Hundreds of people know I’m gay, I just never made it an official declaration. I never felt I had to wear a billboard on my forehead. But I’m gay. Get over it. I love it. It’s a great life.”
And with that, Ferlo becomes the first openly LGBTQ person to serve in the Pennsylvania Senate and the third in the General Assembly.
He’s been receiving lots of congratulations and an equal dose of skepticism for remaining in the closet for so many years.
It is a good thing when people make public their identity as LGBT, especially community leaders. What doesn’t feel so good is the oversimplification – even adulation of a public figure who lived a lie of omission (at best) for decades. His flippant comment about wearing a billboard on his forehead is unpleasant, somewhat of a slap on the faces of the many brave people who took that step, made that leap in the face of terrifying possibilities. And don’t come out with a pension and applause.
Is losing a political career a greater risk than losing your family and home at age 14? There’s no real answer to that question, but it illustrates why we must think about the messages we send when we rush to heap praise or criticism on Ferlo. His larger than life personality surely creates larger than life expectations along with a huge opportunity to rush in with other agendas and calculated commentary.
We should … there’s no should here. There simply is what is. I’ve no wish to castigate a 63-year-old man who comes out under any circumstances. And while I roll my eyes at those who seek adulation by association, that’s nothing new under the sun.
Ferlo’s coming out makes Pennsylvania a little better today than it was yesterday. Here’s hoping he moves into his retirement career paving the way for dozens of other quietly white gay men and lesbians to come tumbling out of their quasi-closets and embrace the world with gusto and a firm grip on the billboard announcing their pride in being part of our community. It should almost be a litmus test for progressives under 40 who are employed as Democrats.
Because so many of us do in fact need those billboards. Perhaps we should get over it, but there’s a lot more work to be done before that happens.