Gay Rep. Ryan Fecteau is set to become speaker of the Maine House of Representatives.
Democrats nominated Fecteau as speaker Thursday, and because they hold a majority in the House, he is "all but assured" of election to the position when the House votes in December, the Portland Press Herald reports. He will be the first out member of the LGBTQ+ community to be Maine speaker and one of about two dozen to have held such leadership positions nationwide. Also, at age 28, he will be the youngest speaker of the House in Maine history.
"The speaker controls the flow of action on the floor, sets the agenda and can have sway over which bills are brought to a vote or not," the Press Herald notes. The person in that role is often a prominent player in budget negotiations between the legislature and the governor, the paper adds.
Fecteau, who was just elected to a fourth term in the House, was the lead sponsor of Maine's bill barring licensed professionals from subjecting minors to so-called conversion therapy, the discredited and harmful practice aimed at turning LGBTQ+ people straight or cisgender. The legislature passed it in 2019 and Gov. Janet Mills signed it into law.
The grandson of French-Canadian immigrants and the son of a single mother, Fecteau grew up in low-income housing and became the first member of his family to graduate from college. Public education was key in shaping his life, he told fellow lawmakers Thursday.
"I'm filled with hope and determination because when Democrats lead, people who are too often forgotten or left at the margins are seen, they are valued and given a fair shot," he said, according to the Press Herald. "Policymakers like you saw value and gave families like mine a fair shot. I'm a Democrat because we believe in families like mine who come to Maine for a better life. We believe in people who may not look like us or speak the same language or practice the same religion."
He is finishing a stint as assistant majority leader in the House, serving with Majority Leader Matt Moonen, also a gay man, making them "the first openly gay legislative leadership duo in U.S. history," the Press Herald reports.
As speaker, he will succeed Sara Gideon, who ran for U.S. Senate against Republican incumbent Susan Collins but lost. "Working alongside him the past years allowed me to witness his natural leadership capabilities and his dedication to the people of Maine," Gideon said regarding Fecteau. "I wish him every success as he takes on this new role."
"Rep. Ryan Fecteau's elevation to be Maine's first out speaker of the House shatters a lavender ceiling in the Pine Tree State," Elliot Imse, senior director of communications at the LGBTQ Victory Institute, told The Advocate via email. "During his past three terms, Rep. Fecteau has highlighted LGBTQ issues, leading the charge to ban conversion therapy in the state and providing a shining example of LGBTQ leadership for young people. We are excited to see what changes a qualified LGBTQ voice will make in this role and wish Speaker Fecteau the absolute best of luck during his term."