Great beard, awesome backstory
AS THE SON of two lieutenant colonels in the
Army and the former co-captain of his college football team, state Rep. Brian Sims is used to being in situations where you might not expect to find a gay man. And that's a good thing because Sims, a Center City Democrat, is also the first openly gay person to win election to a state office in Pennsylvania.
Almost one year into the job, Sims sat down in his 12th Street office with Daily News writer Sean Collins Walsh for a status check and some background info.
Q You grew up in a military family. Where are some of the places you've lived?
I was born in Washington, D.C., at Walter Reed, the big Army hospital. I moved around a lot as a kid. Army kid. We lived in Monterey, Calif.; Eagle River, Alaska; Fort Leavenworth, Kan. - the big federal prison. I lived in Northern Virginia, a little bit of everywhere.
Q What's your favorite non-Pennsylvania place?
Thank you for asking it that way. That's an easy one. It was Alaska. I was a little kid, and so for me it was an adventure. The fact that it was dark out for half the year didn't affect me the same way it would an adult.
Q And where were you when you came out?
I came out my last semester of college at Bloomsburg University, after the national championship game. [Bloomsburg lost to Delta State in the 2000 D-II championship, with Sims at defensive tackle.] The first couple of people I ever came out to were my quarterback, my defensive end and another roommate of ours.
And then my family. I remember when I was coming out to my folks, they were just really concerned about how my team was handling it. And when they found out that my team was handling things really well, they didn't feel like they had anything really to handle.
My parents have always been wonderful. I come from a very colorful, quirky family. They wanted to make sure the support systems I had were good, and they were.
Q They're quirky lieutenant colonels?
They were. People instinctively think of this sort of leatherneck, rough-and-tough thing. That's not to say that both of my parents couldn't beat me up. But my parents had a lot of degrees between the two of them. They were Army academics.
Q You've been involved with the push for gay rights for a long time. Are you surprised at the recent surge in movement on that issue after years of seemingly slow progress?
I'm not surprised. We've known forever that when you elect "out" people to an electoral body that the byproduct of that is going to be a pro-civil-rights stance from that body, whether it's a school board or a senate. For the past 20 years, we've been electing out people to office.
This last year, the national Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund had 160 candidates around the country who were out and a win rate that was twice that of the tea party.
Q Then do you think that there's about to be a snowball effect in Pennsylvania politics since state Rep. Mike Fleck, R-Huntingdon, came out and you've been elected?
Pennsylvania politics is odd when it comes to LGBT civil rights. By every measure, this state supports equality. When people talk about Pennsylvania being conservative, they're really talking about the legislature.
Q Representing this district, you're kind of the mayor of the Gayborhood. What are your favorite places here?
Good question. Ever since they redid Woody's, I've been a huge fan. The change in Woody's was something that was long overdue. I spend a lot of my time at Tabu, the sports bar.
Q City Hall is in your district. Are there quirks that go along with that?
Probably 80 percent of the constituent services we do here is for municipal services. A lot of the work that we do here is coordinating with City Hall.
Also, there's almost a million LGBT people in Pennsylvania, and we get phone calls from all over the state, let alone all over the city.
Q You mean gay people in other districts are calling you guys for help?
All the time. Every day. For help on issues, concerns about the legality of stuff. We point them in a direction. And when my colleagues get a call, if they don't know, they call me. It's something that we're proud of here.