Sims sums up first weeks as lawmaker
by Angela Thomas
Feb 14, 2013 | 1500 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
On Sept. 8, 2011, Brian Sims announced his candidacy for state representative of Pennsylvania’s 182nd District. On April 25, 2012, Sims beat longtime incumbent Babette Josephs in a primary race that would ultimately make him the first openly gay elected state legislator in Pennsylvania.

Sims was officially sworn in to the House in December and started attending his first legislative sessions last month.

He said he’s now looking to follow through on his goals of create change by giving LGBTs a seat at the table.

“What I said during the election was that it was not just about what you fight for, but about how you fight for it. I felt like I could fight for things in a different way,” he said.

It has been almost a year since Sims’ campaign ended, but some of those early efforts still resonate with him as he enters his third month in the House.

“I got a check in mid-February at a time when we were trying to raise money,” he said. “It was from a woman in Kentucky and she wrote that she always thought her son would be the first openly gay president, but he died from HIV/AIDS in the 1980s.”

Although he appreciated the sentiment, Sims said he sent the check back; however, a few weeks later, the check returned and had doubled in amount.

“She wrote how she considered this to be an investment in the first gay president of the U.S,” he said. “It was one of those moments when I realized I wasn’t just running for the 182nd District. I wasn’t just running in Philly or Pennsylvania. I really was running for LGBT people nationally who felt they didn’t have a voice in politics.”

Sims said he and his staff set out to meet people on all different levels and from all backgrounds.

That experience, he said, helped him gain backing from some unexpected supporters and put him directly in touch with the needs of the district.

“It was wonderful to meet all of the other supporters. Individuals should have a relationship with your representative,” he said.

Sims was in bed before midnight after his victory in the April primary, which he celebrated at Woody’s.

“I remember that night, after I went home, I went right to bed,” he said. “It was just me and my dog and I figured I earned it.”

Among his supporters on hand for the occasion were his parents, who both worked different polling stations that day.

After the election was called a little after 9 p.m., Sims, his parents and his staff walked over to Woody’s to celebrate.

“I was walking with my dad and when we went upstairs, he stopped me and grabbed my shoulders and he was crying and gave me this big hug. Being of an age where my parents could be actively involved was almost overwhelming,” he said.

His next phase — settling into elected office — has been just as much a learning experience as the campaign, he said.

Sims said after his freshman orientation, he felt more disoriented than oriented.

“There are 30-40 different state departments that we have to deal with as a staff. We got mini presentations from all of them. The orientation was a crash course on how much you just don’t know.”

Much of Sims’ job involves travel not only between Philadelphia and Harrisburg, but also statewide.

He’s been making good use of SEPTA and Amtrak. He hasn’t had a car since 2007 but was issued one by the state to travel to hearings throughout Pennsylvania, which he plans to utilize to ensure he’s attuned to issues throughout the state.

“When there is a hearing in Philly, everyone statewide comes because it is Philly, but if a state rep in Erie or Pittsburgh holds a hearing, barely anyone from Philly comes,” he said. “Part of my race and win was being a quality liaison for Philadelphia statewide. We are balancing the train and driving.”

Sims currently has one legislative assistant in Harrisburg and three staff members in his Philadelphia office — chief-of-staff Mason Lane, district office director Anna Aagenes and district coordinator Tim Keller.

On a day-to-day basis, Sims and his staff are tasked with helping constituents with such issues as education funding, gun crime, taxes, civil rights, nondiscrimination, bullying and many other struggles.

“It’s a full spectrum of issues. This is what I hoped for. I knew the issues we would deal with are statewide and nationwide issues.”

When it comes to the House floor and the halls of Harrisburg, Sims said he has had nothing but positive experiences with lawmakers from both parties — which he likened to the surprise some LGBT people experience in the coming-out process.

“We all learned this when we ‘came out.’ Everyone around us was more supportive than we thought they would be. Most people have examples of those who didn’t, but I never had someone who was indifferent. The people around me have been more supportive than I thought, and that has been with the state House as well.”

Sims, who has a background as a lobbyist in Harrisburg and as president of Equality Pennsylvania, said he is eager for the possibility of advancing civil rights in Pennsylvania in a bipartisan way.

He noted that the LGBT Equality Caucus is gaining steam, with double the membership and new Republican representation.

“Now, in just six weeks, I realize there is absolutely that room and that, the truth is, we are still struggling every day to see all of the opportunities of bipartisanship, and so I feel now, there is even more of an opportunity to do this.”

Sims said he is eager to see the advancement of two LGBT-inclusive bills in the next year: anti-bullying legislation Pennsylvania Safe Schools Act and a statewide nondiscrimination law that includes sexual orientation and gender identity.

The universality of discrimination LGBT people face hit home, Sims said, at last month’s presidential inauguration when he was in a crowd of foreign-born individuals.

“There was something about hearing these people around me cheering for the same things I was cheering for, who could recognize that the same issues we face in immigration and with race are the same issues we face because of our sexual orientation and gender identity.”

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