Brian Sims Comes to Provincetown Bear Week
by Steve Desroches
Shortly after the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of LGBT equality in June 2013, Democratic Pennsylvania State Representative Brian Sims of Philadelphia attempted to address the Pennsylvania House in support of the ruling. However, several anti-gay state representatives prevented him from taking the floor and Republican representative Daryl Metcalfe later gave this chilling explanation as to why: “I did not believe that as a member of that body that I should allow someone to make comments such as he was preparing to make that ultimately were just open rebellion against what the word of God has said, what God has said, and just open rebellion against God’s law.”
The comment made national news sparking ferocious debate about separation of church and state while also offering an example of how much work there is still to be done in regard to LGBT equality, despite all the recent legal victories. It also put Sims, the first openly LGBT person elected to Pennsylvania’s General Assembly, back in the spotlight since he first made national news when he came out in 2000 when he was co-captain of the Bloomsburg University football team, making him the first NCAA football player to do so.
“This cost him and his ideology that day,” says Sims of the ultra-right wing Metcalfe. “For the next six weeks I got to spend it on MSNBC calling him stupid.”
Aside from the publicity, the move also earned a record number of Republican co-sponsors of LGBT rights bills introduced by Sims in an attempt to distance themselves from Metcalfe, according to the Pennsylvania freshmen representative, further cementing his reputation as an effective leader on gay rights, not just in Pennsylvania, but nationwide. At only 35 Sims has distinguished himself as a civil rights attorney, LGBT activist, and as a state representative representing the 182nd Pennsylvania district, which includes the “gayborhood” in Philadelphia. With all due respect to his accomplishments and his talents, his striking good looks have also helped propel him to national fame. Regardless of the reasons, it’s a remarkable amount of attention for a politician that represents a little over 60,000 people.
“Everyday,” laughs Sims when asked if he is surprised by his national recognition and thousands of followers on Facebook and Twitter, many of whom don’t even live in Pennsylvania. “Truly, everyday.”
His popularity and celebrity may be the reason why a planned vacation to Provincetown for Bear Week turned into a working trip with a fundraiser for his re-election campaign at Sage Inn and Lounge and several appearances at a variety of events around town. Even in a sea of beards and barrel chests he will no doubt be recognized, especially since making the OUT 100 list of the most compelling LGBT people in the country in Out magazine and his numerous television appearances speaking passionately about equality. Since his election in 2012 his work on LGBT rights in Pennsylvania has been impressive. He’s introduced legislation to expand anti-discrimination laws and to ban so-called “gay conversion therapy” in the commonwealth. He also introduced legislation to legalize same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania, which happened by a circuit court decision last May, but he adds the legislation still needs to pass to synchronize the law with the court’s conclusion. While the legislation has yet to pass, Sims has received much praise and credit for lighting a fire in the one sluggish state in the Northeast not to embrace LGBT equality. And he’s hopeful that after this November’s gubernatorial election there will be progress. Poll numbers show incumbent Republican Governor Tom Corbett with dismal approval numbers, making it quite possible his Democratic and pro-equality challenger Tom Wolf will replace him.
“He’s going to lose,” says Sims of Corbett. “What I needed was a governor who would sign it, and I’m going to get one after this election.”
Sims was also credited with being one of the people who helped convince both of Pennsylvania’s senators, one a Republican and one a Democrat, to support LGBT rights. Soon after Sims published an open letter calling on Democratic Senator Bob Casey to support marriage equality he did so three days later, and using the same tactic, he got Republican Senator Pat Toomey to vote in favor of the Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would protect against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity on a federal level. ENDA passed the Senate and is awaiting a House vote, but amid concerns that religious exemptions in the law are too permissive, (especially after the Supreme Court’s “Hobby Lobby” decision), support for the bill from the LGBT community has eroded.
“Frankly, I’m inclined to agree with them,” says Sims of the withdrawal of support for the bill from groups like the ACLU, GLAD, and the Transgender Law Center. “Introducing a non-discrimination law in Pennsylvania, I’m familiar with religious exemptions and I think we have reasonable provisions in it. What’s happening on the federal level though, with ENDA, is too broad.”
Politics is never far from Sims’ lips and his focus is on equality for all, not just in LGBT rights. As far as future plans he says he will always be involved in the fight for equality, be it in the public or private realm, and his focus is also on his re-election. And in a mark of changing times it doesn’t worry him in the slightest that coming to Provincetown for Bear Week might diminish his chances come Election Day.
“People are ready for an out and proud legislator,” says Sims. “One of my favorite things about being LGBT is being part of a community that is as big and diverse as we are. I’m so looking forward to coming to Provincetown.”