Brian Sims is part of Victory Fund’s Champagne Brunch.
by Donalevan Maines
Pennsylvania State Representative Brian Sims is the only former NCAA football captain to ever come out to his team. In November, with help from the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, he became the first openly gay candidate elected to the Pennsylvania state legislature.
“I am an absolute junkie for the Victory Fund,” says Sims, who will join Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Texas State Representative Mary González of El Paso, and Mayor Annise Parker as guest speakers at the group’s annual Houston Champagne Brunch, to be held at the Hilton Americas-Houston on Sunday, March 24.
“To fire some people up to run for office is an opportunity not to be missed,” says Sims, explaining that the Victory Fund has been changing America’s politics since 1991 by helping thousands of openly LGBT candidates win election to local, state, and federal offices.
Sims jokes, “I received a purple envelope when I was sixteen telling me I’m gay.”
However, he wasn’t ready to come out until shortly after he helped lead the Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania football team to the Division II national championship game. He says the moment of truth came when the quarterback randomly asked him, “Yo, Sims, are you gay?”
“I answered just short of, ‘Jeepers, mister, I’m so gay!’”
That led to a meeting in which Sims came out to the rest of his fellow Huskies, and news spread throughout Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania.
“It’s like it was written in the sky,” he recalls. “My big take-away from it was that I suddenly had one hundred or so guys all thinking something was going to happen to me, and every one of them became the guy who was going to stand up and defend me.
“I was a 290-pound twenty-year-old, so yeah, it was uncomfortable in the locker room,” he says. “The antigay lexicon was stupid and
foolish.” However, Sims figured out that locker-room machismo didn’t necessarily equate to homophobia.
Likewise, he shrugged off the ignorant antigay comments made by a San Francisco 49er cornerback during Super Bowl Media Day last month. “What it reminded me of is Charles Barkley saying how he always thinks it’s really stupid for anyone to believe there are not gay professional athletes already in the locker room. You’re either really myopic or really stupid.” The player made a public apology, and Sims says, “I take him for his word.
“I gave up being Catholic for Lent in the nineties,” says Sims. “My faith is in mankind. My forgiveness comes from being fallible. Hang around me for ten minutes and you will see me make ten mistakes.”
Among his mistakes, he says, is making wrong assumptions about Republican lawmakers in the Pennsylvania Legislature. “I’ve made the assumption, ‘This person doesn’t support my civil rights,’ only to find out they were not the people I thought,” he says. “There is not a member I shouldn’t approach [for support on a civil rights issue].”
Sims is a distinguished policy attorney who served as both president of the board of directors of Equality Pennsylvania and chairman of Gay and Lesbian Lawyers of Philadelphia (GALLOP). He has worked with attorneys, legislators, and community organizations on issues ranging from gender and pay inequity to environmental regulation.
Sims earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and a Juris Doctor degree in international and comparative law from Michigan State University College of Law.
Regarding his personal life, the thirty-four-year-old says, “I used to have one.” Three years ago, he and his boyfriend split up, and Sims embarked on a thirty-six-month whirlwind of civil rights advocacy that included running for office. He explains that, unlike the Texas Legislature that only convenes every other year, being a state representative in Pennsylvania is a full-time job. He splits his time between an apartment in Philadelphia’s gayborhood and a house in the state capital of Harrisburg.
Sims recalls that after coming out to his football team, he went home on break to tell his parents he’s gay. “Afraid, nervous, scared—that wasn’t the case,” he says. “Both of my parents are retired Army lieutenant colonels. You were a feminist whether you wanted to be or not. I have an older brother, a twin brother, and a younger sister. We grew up in a co-equal household, so the idea of being different was not as scary as it would be for someone else.”
The Houston brunch is the second of ten events the Victory Fund has scheduled this year throughout the country, said Jeff Spitko, chief marketing officer for the Victory Fund and Institute. Other host cities include Washington DC, New York, Kansas City, San Diego, Chicago, Nashville, Los Angeles, and Denver, with dates not yet determined for champagne brunches in Atlanta and Seattle.
Prior to speaking at a Victory Fund event last month in San Diego, Sims said, “I tend not to prepare remarks. I spend every day with my values. I know what compels me, so to tell my story to a room, it’s a lot more authentic when I just speak from my heart.”
The keynote speaker at the Houston champagne brunch is Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), who became the first openly bisexual candidate ever elected to the U.S. Congress when she won her race last November with the backing of the Victory Fund. She joined a record number of openly gay colleagues and the first openly gay U.S. senator.
“Houstonians have played a major role in the success of the Victory Fund’s mission, and that support paid off in a big way in 2012,” says Chuck Wolfe, Victory’s president and CEO, who is also slated to speak at the event. “This is an opportunity to celebrate our progress and look ahead to another year of groundbreaking LGBT politics.”
For more information, visit victoryfund.org.
What: Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund’s Houston Champagne Brunch with U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema; Pennsylvania State Rep. Brian Sims; Texas State Rep. Mary González; Houston Mayor Annise Parker; Victory Fund President and CEO Chuck Wolfe
When: Sunday, March 24, 11 a.m.–2 p.m.
Where: Hilton Americas-Houston Hotel, 1600 Lamar St.
Tickets: Individual tickets $125. For information on becoming a sponsor or table captain: Tim Meinke at 202/567-3301 or at [email protected]
More info: victoryfund.org/houston.
Donalevan Maines also writes about the gay rodeo in this issue of OutSmart.