He’s been dubbed an American taste god by GQ. His ubiquitous television interviews, from his loft apartment outside Pittsburgh, resplendent in a lime-green scarf and a winter coat, have made him an icon. At 6’8” he is an imposing figure with a Harvard degree. And, we’re happy to have him on our side!
Pennsylvania lieutenant governor John Fetterman has become a national figure, primarily through those TV appearances, where he lambasted the Trump administration and the former president. His Twitter account became famous for his witticism and barbs. And, now Fetterman is raising hell again by raising two LGBTQ+ Pride flags — along with a marijuana flag — outside his office at the state capitol in Harrisburg.
There’s only one problem with that. The Republicans in the state legislature, who seem to be offended at the sight of rainbow flags, surreptitiously stuck a state law inside last year’s budget bill that banned the unauthorized flying of flags on the capitol grounds. It was a direct swipe at Fetterman’s LGBTQ flags, which were being hung to encourage support for adding a state constitutional amendment that outlawed discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Like Fetterman’s flags, the state legislature in a vote on Tuesday, tore down that provision too.
To say, that Fetterman is angry, would be an understatement. “It’s unbelievable that they actually passed a law to bar me from [flying his flags], so if they want to send the antigay flag police to take them down, then go ahead. They came earlier this year and took them down, and I put them right back up. Now this week, they took them down again, and when I’m back in Harrisburg on Monday, I’m going to hang them back up.”
But what makes Fetterman’s blood really boil is the state legislature’s refusal to recognize discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community. When I asked him why they’re so against our community, Fetterman let out a deep, frustrated sigh. “I don’t know. I really don’t know. It just doesn’t make any sense.”
“I’m ashamed of my state, and I’m so sad because the LGBTQ community deserves those protections under the law, no more no less than anyone else,” Fetterman continued. “This idea that you’re not embracing the right side of this law is just so wrong. It should have always been this way, and the fact that it hasn’t, and they have the opportunity to correct that, and they rejected that as recently as this week, and it’s really awful. It’s vile and has no place in Pennsylvania or anywhere in the United States.”
Fetterman vowed that he will continue to push for equal protection under the state law for the LGBTQ community. “We will just keep fighting for it,” he vowed. “We won’t stop.”
The irony that some members of the Pennsylvania state legislature were on the U.S. Capitol grounds with darker flags on January 6, during the insurrection, was not lost on Fetterman. “They were flying other more offensive flags, and they’re upset about a gay flag and a marijuana flag? And there’s no punishment for them. It’s absurd.”
While Fetterman may be appearing less on television these days because Trump is out of office, that is just fine with him. “I’m so happy about Biden. I love a boring president. It’s such a relief. You just have so much more confidence in our government. And, we don’t have a science denier-in-chief. We’re going to finally get federal leadership on COVID-19, which is long overdue.”
To that end, Fetterman pointed out how happy he was that President Biden nominated the state’s former secretary of health, Dr. Rachel Levine, as the Assistant U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. She would be the first openly transgender federal official to be confirmed by the Senate. “I couldn’t be more proud and happy for her,” he exclaimed. “She endured a level of viciousness and personal attack during the pandemic that was disgusting. It is such a victory to see her move on, into a highly visible position serving our country, especially now during the pandemic.”
It’s been rumored that Fetterman may follow Levine to the federal level, and that he will run for the seat of the state’s retiring U.S. Senator, Republican Pat Toomey. I asked Fetterman if he was going to throw his hat in the ring. “An announcement is forthcoming,” was all I could get out of him. I told him to do it because we need his unwavering support and wavering flags in Washington.
Finally, I asked Fetterman how he feels about all of his newfound fame, particularly being called out for his trendsetting attire? “I’m a GQ fashionista, imagine that?” he laughed. “I don’t take it seriously. My wife always gives me a hard time about how I dress, and I always say, are you an American fashion taste god?”
Fetterman is like me on that account, since my partner gives me grief over my clothes. Fetterman is also a fellow Pittsburgher who has one suit, which we both hate to wear. The lieutenant governor said that if I’m ever back home in Pittsburgh, he’d take me out for one of the city’s famous Primanti Brothers sandwiches; however, I think I’m going to pick up the bill to thank him for flying those flags and being such a fierce ally.
John Casey is editor at large for The Advocate.