It’s fair to ask Brian Sims why he wants to stay in politics. We are in the midst of a deeply divided time, and as the first openly gay elected legislator in Pennsylvania history, he’s found himself in the middle of our nastiest partisan fights — from the wars over Covid-19 restrictions to the failed efforts from Republicans to overturn the results of the presidential election.
But as a former college football captain, Sims knows victory doesn't come easily. Over the the last year, he’s recognized how much empathy is lacking in government, and the need for diverse voices to fill our leadership void.
That’s why, despite all of the animosity and conflict, Sims is running for Pennsylvania lieutenant governor.
“I have realized the type of fortitude, the type of empathy, the type of strength we expect from LGBTQ people, from racial and ethnic minorities and immigrants, is often what’s most missing in government,” he said. “I really do think my entire state, and certainly my senate, needs the leadership of someone who’s fought really hard for equality and economic justice.”
After 10 years in the State House, I’ve taken the lessons that my parents taught me & reinforced them in my work as a legislator: to take responsibility, commit to service, be courageous, & push for fairness.— Brian Sims (@BrianSimsPA) February 15, 2021
I’m ready to take these values to lead the Commonwealth. pic.twitter.com/lcNmYQghgr
The trailblazing legislator, who represents parts of Philadelphia in the State House, is unapologetically combative — especially when provoked. Last year, Sims called out his Republican colleagues for masking Covid-19 diagnoses, putting the health of the entire legislature at risk.
While Sims says he strives for bipartisanship, he refuses to compromise on his core beliefs. As an LGBTQ person in government, he’s committed to amplifying the voices of the marginalized.
“We call it cute things: ‘Black girl magic,’ or ‘women’s intuition,’ or ‘trans excellence,’” he said. “But those are all coded ways of saying we recognize the life experiences of people that are not straight white cis men often come with a lot of leadership skills. The answer to all problems in politics isn’t diversity, but it’s a huge answer to many of the problems.”
On the surface, Pennsylvania appears to be one of the most deadlocked states in the country. In 2016, Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania by just 44,292 votes. Last year, Joe Biden carried the state by 81,660 votes.
Despite its status as a swing state, Sims says there’s strong support for progressive causes throughout Pennsylvania. There are roughly 800,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans, and the current lieutenant governor, John Fetterman, has shown how to coalesce energy around causes such as green energy and marijuana legalization.
Sims finds the platform attractive.
“There isn’t a major progressive issues that’s been introduced in my state over the last decade that I haven’t been a prime sponsor on, or a primary co-sponsor on,” he said. “People ask all the time, ‘What the hell does the lieutenant governor do?’ What we’ve seen from our current lieutenant governor, is that position provides a huge pulpit to pursue progressive policies.”
With six-figure followings on Twitter and Instagram, Sims already holds a captive audience. Occasionally, he’ll use his pages to share some of the ugliest insults hurled in his direction, as an effort to highlight the gross discrimination LGBTQ people still face.
“I’m glad people notice the really awful shit coming at me sometimes,” he said. “It’s important oftentimes for straight cis people to recognize the amount of vitriol and backlash that still exists against queer people. There are still far too many straight people who are shocked by it, which means they’re not seeing it or not paying attention to it.”
Still, Sims recognizes his privilege. He has the luxury to just ignore the insults, which can’t be said for a gay kid growing up in a homophobic household, or a trans kid who’s getting bullied in school.
Those are the people propelling Sims to stay in this fight.
“I get emails, ‘I’m sorry for that or this,’ and no — I’m OK,” Sims said. “I put myself here. We knew some of this was going to happen. Because of the access I have and the resources I have, it pales in comparison to a little queer kid right now somewhere in Potter County.”