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Brian Sims on why LGBTQ people thrive in politics: ‘We have empathy’

Sims, who is the first openly gay legislator to be elected in Pennsylvania, says the best public policy is grounded in empathy.

Brian Sims is the first openly gay elected legislator in Pennsylvania history.
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Seven years ago, Brian Sims made history as the first openly gay legislator to be elected in Pennsylvania. As he gears up for his fourth general election Tuesday, the former college football captain has learned a lot about governing.

Most of all, he’s learned LGBTQ people belong.

“We live in a representative democracy. Therefore, it always sounds good to say that a representative democracy should include more diverse people,” he told Outsports. “But it turns out, we are also very good at this work.”

As a representative of Pennsylvania’s 182nd district, located in Philadelphia, Sims strives to serve his constituents each day. Oftentimes, that requires having an understanding of other people’s problems.

Sims can’t speak personally about the experiences of women, Black people and other repressed groups. But as a gay man who played football, he knows what it’s like to be invisible.

His job is to make sure none of his constituents feel that way about their representation in Harrisburg.

“Good public policy is about empathy,” Sims told me in a phone call. “It’s literally about putting yourself in somebody else’s shoes, and determining whether a law or a strategy will impact them. And LGBTQ people, just like women and people of color, are very good at empathy.”

A record number of LGBTQ candidates are running for office this year. At least 574 LGBTQ candidates are expected to appear on the ballot for the Nov. 3 election, according to the LGBTQ Victory Fund.

Sims is expected to defeat his Republican opponent, Drew Murray, in next Tuesday’s election.

The surging number of LGBTQ political candidates coincides with skyrocketing support for LGBTQ people in the U.S. But it might also have to do with our current dystopia of intensifying national crises and polarization.

We’ve witnessed lots of suffering over the last four years, Sims says, and especially over the last nine months, as the coronavirus pandemic has killed nearly 227,000 Americans and left tens of millions unemployed.

To solve these catastrophic problems, we must view the world beyond our neighborhoods. That happened all summer long, when protests against police brutality and systemic racism roiled the U.S.

Sims says the issue of racism is unavoidable, especially for LGBTQ people. You don’t need to be a student of Kimberlé Crenshaw to see the intersectionality of our simultaneous struggles for equality.

“No matter where you fall on the civil rights sphere in America right now, I think how, when, and why racism impacts all of our civil rights is and has to be the front of the conversation,” Sims said. “In a nation that allows rampant racism, and supports rampant racism, and maybe in a nation that is built around systems that are rampantly racist, it is impossible to separate the advancement of LGBTQ civil rights from that, nor should we even try.”

Sims, who shared his viral coming out story with Outsports in 2009, says his constituents are expressing unprecedented concerns about national issues.

That’s fitting, considering the vast importance Pennsylvania will carry in this year’s presidential election. Both Donald Trump and Joe Biden are counting on the swing-state to propel them to victory.

Four years ago, Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania by 44,292 votes. This year, polls show Biden leading by five to 13 points.

Like other swing-states, Pennsylvania is also a battleground for election-related litigation. The state’s Republican party has unsuccessfully challenged a ruling that allows mail-in ballots to be counted for up to three days following Election Day — as long as they are postmarked by Nov. 3.

Sims says he thinks Pennsylvania will swing for Biden, and in convincing fashion.

“What I see is a very blue-collar, working class, sort of dogged resolve to make sure you and your family are protected, and that you are respected, and that your offspring will do better,” he said. “No matter where you fall politically, it is impossible right now for anybody to say that not only are you and your family respected and protected, but your kids might do better than you.”

Fixing our generational challenges will require good policy. And good policy requires good policymakers who represent the country as a whole.

Emerging LGBTQ candidates are poised to lead the way.

“Yes, we belong in government because we exist in this country,” Sims said. “But we also belong in government, because we have a particular skillset and life experience that’s very valuable in representative democracies.”