Brian Sims Win as PA’s First Out Representative Indicative of National Move Toward LGBT Inclusiveness
The dust has finally begun settling in this year’s high stakes election, one that had a historically heavy turnout. 2012 is a year where America has seen economic turmoil, political gridlock, vicious discourse amongst our nation’s leaders and a general lack of direction for how to get our country back to where it once was. It is no surprise that turnout was as high as it was.
In a swing state like Pennsylvania, high turnout is essential for victory on the important issues and to ensure the success of desired candidates. Fortunately, this year has hosted a wealth of successes in the LGBT community in the state.
For the first time in PA history, there were four out-gay candidates running for State House of Representatives, including Philadelphia’s Brian Sims. While Christopher Dietz, Jeff Dahlander and Kelly McEntee lost to the incumbents in their respective districts, Sims went on to become PA’s first out Representative after first defeating incumbent Babette Josephs in the primary earlier this year winning his seat in District 182.
"I’m honored by the support, humbled by all the hard work, and ready to take the Capitol by storm...a Progressive Storm!" Sims said on his win. And while the other hopeful, out candidates did not join him, the change in tide for the LGBT community is palpable in the nominations alone.
On the national stage, the gay community has never been better poised for political success. President Obama was re-elected, and with it came additional inclusive statements pledging his support to gay rights. On the state level, the first instance of marriage equality passing on a popular vote ballot was finally achieved in Maine, Maryland and Washington.
Furthermore, Pennsylvania was not the only place that saw a rise in LGBT political success. Across the nation in a diverse selection of states and offices, gay politicians found themselves not only on the ballot, which is a success in its own right, but also as the winners against strong incumbents.
With seven openly gay candidates winning seats in Congress, the community is finally seeing a shift from the old method of simply advocating for allies in government to handle our rights. With a transition to having strong voices of its own, the gay community is raising the issues on its own. Six candidates won their races for the U.S. House of Representatives, while one of the more notable victories led Tammy Baldwin’s win in Wisconsin, making her the first openly gay U.S. Senator.
Considering this leap forward in public response to the LGBT equality movement and the political proponents associated with it nationwide as well as locally, the discourse of elections seem to have finally shifted in the gay community’s favor. Much of this can be credited to having openly gay candidates facilitating the discussion.
"It is important we get the message out about LGBT people," Sims noted. "[The fact] that we had an openly lesbian and gay man do well lets people across [Pennsylvania] know that we are here and we are working for our rights and we are working for the commonwealth."
Progress in Rural Pennsylvania Signals Changing Attitudes
Perhaps more noteworthy than an LGBT win in Philadelphia, it was the candidates in the more rural areas that truly brought the conversation to opponents of the equality movement. Christopher Dietz stated that while his platform was far more than simply gay rights, he was pleased to have been able to highlight the issues in a largely resistant part of the state.
"My campaign moved forward conversation in areas that might not usually talk about LGBT issues. I am happy with being able to do that," he said. "[What’s important] is giving people the strength to be who they are and help them with their process. It has been a wonderful experience for me all across the board."
While this progress is encouraging, Pennsylvania is a particularly complicated state to live in for the gay community. It is telling that while Sims won in the Blue capital of the state that Dietz and McEntee were not able to achieve the same in their districts deeper into the state. The disparity between voting patterns in PA’s rural and urban areas will likely lead to a slew of local victories for the gay community, but not many statewide.
But Ted Martin, the executive director of Equality Pennsylvania, is not discouraged, stating that he looks at this year’s wins in the context of the national victories. He believes that the country’s increased opinion of the "gay issue" as more of a non-issue will lead to nationwide victory.
"It strengthens our hand," Martin said. "We’ll have a better message, a more aggressive message to tell. Think about it, eight years ago, gay marriage or same-sex marriage was used as a wedge issue to divide the country. This year the president, who supports same-sex marriage, won pretty handily. It wasn’t even an issue."
As with much of the fight for equality, victories were welcome but did not fully realize the goals of the LGBT community. In Pennsylvania, the uphill battle of the urban areas to move our equality agenda forward against the wish of many of the rural areas will likely be a push and pull over the next decade. But having gay politicians coming forward and openly seeking office is an imperative step to this victory. Despite Dietz and McEntee being defeated, the dialogue opened just by being a candidate in the race cannot be undervalued.
Similarly, Sims’ win in Philadelphia signals a monumental change in the tides for LGBT rights in Pennsylvania. Perhaps there won’t be instant results, but it looks like Pennsylvania and the country as a whole are on the right track to give the gay community the rights it deserves.