By: Atiya Irvin-Mitchell
Harvey Milk said, “coming out is the most political thing you can do.” In honor of LGBT history month, Chatham University is celebrating those who came out before there was “Glee” and “The Ellen Degeneres Show” and accomplished great things. One of the many accomplished Queer people that Chatham had the privilege of hearing speak was Pennsylvania State Representative Brian Sims.
Cheering at the mention of LGBT history month and telling anecdotes anywhere from his being recruited to play football as an (in his own words) overweight teenager to leading the Philadelphia pride parade in a tiara, 35-year-old Brian Sims gave those who filled up Eddy Theatre to hear him speak a candid and unapologetic look as his life, his beliefs and ultimately his decision to run for office.
When the head of the Pennsylvania Center of Women in Politics Dana Brown Introduced Representative Sims, she noted that LGBT rights and women’s rights are linked. This statement took on a particular significance when the representative took the stage.
When the openly gay, self-proclaimed sparkly liberal from Philadelphia took the stage he jokingly said, “When your mother is a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army, you’re going to be a feminist whether you like it or not.”
Rep. Sims started studying for the bar exam at age of 15. He is a feminist who has always taken a very strong stance on women’s rights. In fact, he admits that before he chose to run for office, he had plans to spend his life working as a women’s rights attorney. Notably last spring, Rep. Sims gave an impassioned speech against a bill that would have banned private insurance companies from covering abortions.
When asked why he, as Cisgender man, is fighting so hard for women’s access to legal, safe abortions, Rep. Sims simply said, “As a free citizen I have a constitutional right to get an abortion and if the person standing next to me is having their rights infringed upon, that affects me.”
There are some who may wonder, of all the directions his life could have gone, how Brian Sims became State Rep. Sims. Why does an army brat turned attorney throw his hat in the messy ring that is politics instead of joining a law firm? For Rep. Sims the answer is simple. He felt the job being done could be done better. And in spite of his position the Rep. does not consider himself a politician at all saying, “I’m not in politics, I am a civil rights advocate.”
Rep. Sims acknowledges the power of being an ally believing that, “In the fight for equality we all must stand together.” Pennsylvania can be a particularly hard state to fight for equality in. When it comes to rights for Queer people, the Keystone State offers very few.
Hate crime legislation was struck down on a technicality in 2008. There are no statewide laws against firing a person based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and the current Republican governor, Tom Corbett, is currently defending Pennsylvania’s version of DOMA. In spite of all that, Rep. Sims is optimistic and co-sponsoring a new bill that will extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in Pennsylvania.
Rep. Sims is certain that in spite the opposition of some that marriage equality will become the law of land and feels that there is hope for the more conservative members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. After being banned from speaking on the house floor in the aftermath of the Defense of Marriage Act being ruled unconstitutional on the charge of “violating God’s law,” Rep. Sims spoke of his conservative colleagues that expressed their support.
Although the representative feels that electing openly LGBT people will improve civil rights for everyone, LGBT rights are not the only thing Rep. Sims is passionate about. In addition to women’s reproductive rights and LGBT rights, Rep. Sims has taken a very strong stance of investing in education and is opposed to the $1 billion cuts made to education funding. Sims believes that every dollar put into education is money that won’t have to be used in building more prisons and that education is one of the few things that can help to eliminate inequalities.
When asked if the voters of Pennsylvania could ever expect a run for governor in his future, Rep. Sims quickly answered no. He said he would not subject himself or those who are close to him to a candidacy for Governor, however he is in favor of a progressive woman governor.
For the time being there is still much that needs to be done to improve the state of Pennsylvania and the country as a whole, and Brian Sims will continue his work as a civil rights advocate in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. Ultimately Sims feels as he said to the crowd in Eddy Theatre, “The only way we’re going to get things done is if we realize we’re all in this together.”