It started as a relatively anonymous hearing of the Pennsylvania House’s State Government Committee, the kind of gathering that doesn’t tend to draw a huge amount of media attention.
State Rep. Matthew Bradford, a Democrat from Montgomery County, was speaking at a hearing of the Committee, with Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, the committee’s chairman, seated to his immediate right. As shown on the video released by the PA House’s YouTube channel, Bradford was discussing infrastructure policy (“landlocked easements and roads”), when he lightly tapped Metcalfe’s arm as he said, “I hear you.”
Metcalfe had something of a surprising reaction:
“I’m a heterosexual,” Metcalfe said. “I have a wife, I love my wife, I don’t like men, as you might … stop touching me, all the time. If you want to touch somebody, you have people on your side of the aisle who might like it — I don’t.”
Bradford was taken aback, and stumbled as he moved to postpone the hearing. He also suggested a sidebar, in order to address some of the “extraneous issues that have been raised.”
In a subsequent interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Bradford (who according to his official bio has a wife named Renee and four children) called Metcalfe’s comments “very unpleasant and awkward and appalling.”
Of course, in this season of constant revelations of sexual harassment, it’s important for lawmakers to respect boundaries when it comes to physical touching. But it’s hardly a good-faith application of this principle when one light, unambiguously non-sexual arm tap leads Metcalfe to make homophobic remarks against the entire Democratic party.
The Pennsylvania Democratic Party, citing years of “policy positions based on bigoted misconceptions and fear of minority groups and the LGBT community,” called on Metcalfe to resign after the incident.
Metcalfe, a Republican from Butler who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 2010, may not be a national household name. But he’s the most notorious homophobe in Pennsylvania politics. Metcalfe introduced legislation on a nearly annual basis to ban same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania, none of them successful, and has frequently used the sort of anti-gay language that’s rarely heard anymore even from the most conservative Republicans.
After the Defense of Marriage Art was struck down in 2013, Metcalfe was part of a group that attempted to prevent openly gay legislator Brian Sims from addressing the issue on the House floor. He declaring Sims’ position on the issue “open rebellion against what the word of God has said, what God has said, and just open rebellion against God’s law.”
Much like Republican members of Congress such as Steve King, Louie Gohmert, and the departed Michele Bachmann and Steve Stockman, Metcalfe is known both for having hard-right views and for frequently drawing attention to himself by blurting out really outlandish statements. It was a template that Donald Trump arguably followed to the White House.
Metcalfe is also an immigration hardliner who once proposed a Pennsylvania version of Arizona’s notorious “Papers Please” law, and a climate change denier who stated during the cap-and-trade debate in 2009 that any veteran who lent their name to the cause of climate change was “a traitor to the oath he or she took to defend the Constitution of our great nation.”
What’s more, this year Metcalfe invited Robert Vandervoort, an activist with white nationalist ties, to testify in Harrisburg. Metcalfe defended Vandervoort by claiming that as a “white nationalist,” he is “quite a bit different from a white supremacist” — a defense that draw praise from the infamous neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer.