With its roots in the century-old Gilded Age-era excess of the coal and steel barons,the Pennsylvania Society has historically been an exclusive affair celebrating the status quo.
Captains of industry and power brokers in the General Assembly - and traditionally, their wives - flitting from party to party in ballgowns and tuxedos.
But this year’s Pennsylvania Society may well be remembered as the coming out year for gay politicians.
Only two legislative backbenchers held scheduled fundraisers: Rep. Brian Sims and Rep. Mike Fleck – the first and only openly gay members of the state legislature.
Both of the events were hosted by prominent New Yorkers.
On Saturday Victor Gotbaum, the legendary former leader of city's largest municipal employees union and his wife Betsy Gotbaum, the former New York City public advocate, hosted a $100-a-head brunch for Fleck, who represents Huntingdon County, in the rural central part of the state, and is facing likely competition from the right in the Republican primary next spring.
On Friday night guests paid as much as $2,500 to attend a sold-out fundraiser for Sims. A Democrat and likely shoe-in to win a second term in his Center City Philadelphia district, Sims’ event was held at the Upper West Side penthouse of Marc Cherry, creator of the hit series "Desperate Housewives."
Sims said he met Cherry, a gay Republican active in politics, at a fundraiser in California a few months ago and he offered him his Manhattan apartment for the Pennsylvania Society event.
Sims grabbed national headlines earlier this year when a Republican Rep. Daryl Metcalfe blocked him from speaking on the House floor about the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. Sims says he is amazed at his newfound popularity, even among top Republicans.
Only a few years ago, Sims made the trip to the Pennsylvania as president of the gay rights group Equality Pennsylvania, and said he was on nobody’s party list. “I was the crazy outsider,” he recalled in an interview Friday night.
This time, Sims said, House Majority leader Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny), made a point of coming up to him after his fundraiser and told him he was sorry he missed it.