State Sen. Jim Ferlo (D-38th Dist.), who came out as gay on September 23 at a rally and press conference at the Capitol Rotunda in Harrisburg, spoke with PGN this week about his history-making announcement.
Ferlo came out at a rally that was calling for expanded hate-crimes legislation in Pennsylvania in light of the recent gay-bashing incident in Philadelphia. Ferlo, a three-term senator who is retiring later this year, is the first openly gay state senator in Pennsylvania.
The announcement came at the end of Ferlo’s speech, in which he emphasized the need to “move as a society to punish those who act on [an individual’s] prejudices through illegal and criminal action.”
He then gave a personal anecdote on his sexuality as a young man, and how he was fortunate to have an understanding mother and supportive friends and colleagues over the years.
He then announced, “I’m gay,” and followed with an explanation of why he chose that particular moment to come out publicly.
“I’m leaving the Senate soon, and I know that many people do not report hate crimes for the fear of being out and about. To those young people, the more that people learn and respect and experience diversity, the better off we are as a society,” he said. “I think we need to nurture and provide opportunities for young people to be culturally accepting of their feelings. And for everyone to feel a major and integral part of the human family.”
Ferlo added that he has long been out privately, but never felt he “had to wear a billboard on [his] forehead. But I’m gay. Get over it. I love it. It’s a great life.”
Ferlo has attempted to pass LGBT-inclusive hate-crimes legislation every year since 2007, when it was declared unconstitutional by the Commonwealth Court, and later upheld by the state Supreme Court, for procedural reasons.
Ferlo believes that, while some of his colleagues across the aisle support the issue, many members of the Republican-controlled House and Senate do not.
“Quite frankly, we are way behind the body politic on this. There continues to be bigotry and unyielding, backwards leadership amongst the Republicans, but I wanted to use this opportunity to open up and personalize the issue for my colleagues,” Ferlo said.
He added it was very important to demonstrate that this issue affects all Pennsylvanians.
“Often these type of press conferences are attended by mostly people from the east of the state like Philly, the urban core, and that area. And people often think of it as an ‘urban problem.’ But I wanted to show that this was a statewide issue — my district encompasses Pittsburgh and surrounding areas — that people in the west are affected by this too,” he said.
Ted Martin, executive director of Equality Pennsylvania, was standing a few feet away when he made the proclamation.
“It was a pretty tense moment — lots of media and people — around the recent hate crime in Philly. No one was expecting Jim’s announcement, but it really lightened the room for a moment,” Martin said.
According to Martin, who “spends a lot of time up on the hill” and has worked extensively with Ferlo on passing LGBT legislation in Harrisburg, Ferlo seemed comfortable after he came out.
“He was really relaxed and very candid. He was there to be honest and upfront, and that took courage,” Martin said.
Ferlo and other state lawmakers and members of the community at the rally sought to garner support for House Bill 177 and Senate Bill 42, which would expand hate-crimes language in the state law to include LGBT individuals.
From our media partner PGN