Pennsylvania lags behind other northern states in its progress toward LGBT equality. But in the state’s April 24 primary, five Democratic candidates will make their initial bid to be the first openly gay legislator in the state. Today, one of these hopefuls, Brian Sims, is On Our Radar.
There is a poem by Maya Angelou about the resilience of the slaves that I think about sometimes when I write my columns for The New Civil Rights Movement.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
I usually think about that poem in the context of the LGBT community. Battered and maligned. Shunned and disparaged. But still – with the certainty of tides — you rise.
There are people who rise too. People who seem to succeed in everything they do. We call them leaders. We call them role models. We call them stars. When they rise, they have the power to lift the hopes and spirits of us all. They can inspire us to tackle great tasks. To think great thoughts. To become our best selves.
They are rare, these rising stars, and incredibly valuable. When any group suffering from discrimination discovers one of these “risers” among them, they should be supported and nurtured and treasured beyond gold, because they are a formidable weapon in the struggle for equality. For some ephemeral reason, these “risers” have the ability to be universally admired. They have a unique capacity to make those prone to prejudice reevaluate their long-held ideas.
Colin Powell was a “riser” who crossed racial lines. In the days of the first President Bush, after Desert Storm, Powell commanded the respect and admiration of a large segment of the white community. Middle-aged white men, who would never before have considered voting for a black man, were disappointed when Colin Powell didn’t run for President.
Neil Patrick Harris is a “riser” in the gay community. To people who have no firsthand experience with “the gays” he’s still the adorable kid they saw grow up on their TV. They do not equate him with the scary picture of gay life the Santorums and the NOMs of this world tell them they should fear and resist. Many, many people who aren’t usually proponents of marriage equality want Neil to marry his partner David in an elegant wedding, well-photographed by the paparazzi so they can vicariously attend. And the same people who tell pollsters they don’t approve of gay adoption happily pay to see pictures of Neil and David and their twins in the tabloid magazines. No doubt about it, Neil Patrick Harris’ best magic trick is his success as an ambassador for the LGBT cause.
Last year, On Our Radar discovered a gay community “riser” in Massachusetts, Alex Morse, the 22-year-old prodigy who was elected Mayor of Holyoke. This week, we tripped over another one. Brian Sims, the college football hero who is running to become the state representative for Philadelphia’s 182nd district, has all the hallmarks of a rising political star. Gay, and out since his college days, Brian appears to be one of those rare souls who can transcend the “gay stigma” and command respect and support across a broad spectrum, even those who are not always so comfortable with the idea of a gay man representing them.
If you’d like to see evidence of Brian’s transcendent personality, all you need to do is watch the video he made for I’m From Driftwood, the historical project that collects and preserves the personal stories of those engaged in the struggle for LGBT equality.
Brian tells the story of how his college football teammates, during their championship season, let him know they had figured out he was gay, and how they not only accepted it, they rallied around and protected him.
An army brat, Brian is a true son of America, raised all over this country, from West Point, to Washington D.C., from Kansas to Alaska. Perhaps it was that nomadic childhood that taught him the ability to befriend people of all stripes. But when it came to growing roots, Brian chose Pennsylvania, where he went to college, and where he has formed deep friendships. Philadelphia has become home. After establishing himself as an attorney, defending disabled professionals from the tender mercies of insurance companies, he adopted a dog, and settled in near the local dog park. Hell, he threw out the first pitch at a Phillies game. I think that makes it official.
As a member of the board of the Victory Fund, Brian worked for years to get other LGBT-friendly candidates elected. But in that capacity, he came across some eye-opening data. It led him to run for office, even though, ironically, he is now running to unseat a candidate he once campaigned to get elected.
“What’s clear” Brian told the Philadelphia Gay News, “is that there is no statistical substitute for having a gay person in a legislative body — no matter how strong the allies, no matter how many the allies, LGBT issues that can be affected by the legislature are affected most when there is an openly gay person serving. From a school board to Congress, whether a gay person introduces a piece of pro-LGBT legislation or not, that person’s colleagues will be working with them on traffic law, on how to handle educational funding, and when that pro-LGBT bill comes up, they will have had all that time to interact with a LGBT person, which can have an enormous effect on furthering that legislation.”
On April 24, Brian Sims will face his first crucible in the form of the Pennsylvania Democratic Primary. If he is ultimately elected to represent the 182nd District, Brian would be the first open LGBT state legislator in Pennsylvania. I think we all agree, that’s an accomplishment long past due. And what a great first impression of a gay legislator Brian would make, with his capacity to be a genuine “man for all seasons,” as impatient to save Philadelphia schools as he is to further marriage equality in Pennsylvania. We have embedded his campaign video below, so you can judge for yourself. Do we have a “riser”?
“You must be the change you want to see in the world” taught Mahatma Gandhi. Brian Sims has taken up that noble charge. It is my hope that we can continue to chronicle his rise for years to come. I have a suspicion this won’t be the last time Brian Sims comes On Our Radar.
Jean Ann Esselink is a straight friend to the gay community. Proud and loud Liberal. Closet writer of political fiction. Black sheep agnostic Democrat from a conservative Catholic family. Living in Northern Oakland County Michigan with Puck the Wonder Beagle. Follow me on Twitter at @uncucumbered.
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