In new memoir, PA Open Records chief talks about keeping her lesbian relationship secret

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Terry Mutchler served as Pennsylvania’s first executive director of the Office of Open Records, but she knows how to keep a secret.

For half of the 1990s, the Poconos-born attorney and journalist hid her lesbian relationship from family, friends, and colleagues. Mutchler and her partner, the late Illinois Sen. Penny Severns, thought it would spell the end of both their careers if the relationship ever became public.

“We were living in a very conservative small town at the time,” Mutchler told WHYY. “There was a vitriolic reaction to gays and lesbians in central Illinois.”

Mutchler said the pair felt the most freedom when they traveled because they could step our of their official roles in public life.

“You have to kind of get the framework of who Penny was in Illinois. It would really be equivalent to Gov. Rendell in some ways. He’s beloved in his city and his state — Penny in the same way,” Mutchler said.

“She couldn’t really go to the grocery store without holding a town meeting.”

The relationship mostly stayed secret, and Mutchler never got the chance to marry Severns, who died of cancer in 1998.

Mutchler says since then, it has been “incredible” to see the progress gays and lesbians have made.

“But I think it’s also important to remember it’s an individual journey,” said Mutchler. “And even though there’s a lot of people in the pool saying come on in, the water’s fine — you still have to make that leap yourself.”

Mutchler outlines her personal journey in the new memoir, Under This Beautiful Dome: A Senator, a Journalist, and the Politics of Gay Love in America.

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