What started out as a routine press conference today for one state senator turned into something a bit more personal. While speaking about a bill that would expand the state of Pennsylvania's hate crimes law to cover lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, retiring Allegheny County Democratic Sen. Jim Ferlo said, "I'm gay. Get over it. I love it."
Ferlo continued, "I've been a practicing homosexual and I am gay since at least the age of 24 or 25. I didn't need a psychiatrist or psychologist. I just decided this was something normal for me, comfortable."
The key takeaway from Ferlo's quote is the word 'normal.' What some still perceive as abnormal, is very normal for others.
In fact, more than 50 years ago, Dr. Alfred Kinsey used a sliding scale of one to six to prove that all of us have both homo and heterosexual tendencies. Scoring a six meant you were primarily homosexual, while a score of one meant you were primarily heterosexual. Kinsey believed most people were somewhere in the middle, although many would be afraid to admit it.
In the 21st century, it's a sad reality that coming out makes headlines. Does it really matter? It shouldn't, but sadly it does. Unfortunately, moving forward, when some people hear the name 'Jim Ferlo,' the first thing to come to mind will be the word 'gay,' despite whether you're in agreement with his political position, or support what he's accomplished during his term with the Pittsburgh City Council and in the state senate.
Like the guy or not, Senator Ferlo displayed world-class mental toughness in making that announcement. In today's day and age, it's not easy for anyone -- let alone a public official -- to come out to one person or the world.
Politics aside, Senator Ferlo gave us hope today. He gives hope to all the teenagers, young adults and everyone else who are still living in the closet, hiding their deep secret from friends, family and others for fear of being bullied, made fun of or worse, the victim of physical violence and abuse. He gives us hope for equality and all who fight for it, and that one day it won't matter what an individual's sexual preference is.
People like Senator Ferlo also help us remember those who have fallen in the battle for equality. For example, televangelists like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson have poisoned millions with their hate filled tirades against homosexuals. How many gay, lesbian and transgender Americans have committed suicide because of their hate filled sermons and broadcasts? How many more are in therapy and gulping anti-depressants because these bullies convinced them they are depraved sinners? Scores of innocent, normal human beings have been brainwashed by these bullies when the reality is there is nothing wrong with them.
The bottom line: Senator Ferlo helps instill that the American dream still exists for anyone who identifies as LGBT. It might not be my American dream or your American dream, but it is the American dream of so many of our friends, family members and colleagues, even if we haven't heard about it yet. The point is we should all be free to live life on our own terms, free from the fear of bigotry, hatred and violence.
As more heroes like Senator Ferlo come out and take a stand, the sooner those closet doors will come crumbling down. Lincoln freed the slaves and it still took another 100+ years for blacks to be treated like equals. As more states continue to embrace and legalize gay marriage, something I personally predict will be a nationwide reality within the next 10 years, America will truly be the land of the free.
As Harvey Milk said, "Politics is theater. It doesn't matter if you win. You make a statement. You say, 'I'm here, pay attention to me.'" The world paid attention to Senator Jim Ferlo and the statement he made today.
As Ferlo said, "There's a million of us in this state and we deserve the same rights and the same protections as everybody else." Gay or straight, that makes sense on a human level.