Sims intends to run in the April 2012 primary for the 182nd District House seat, currently held by Rep. Babette Josephs (D).
Last month Sims announced he would not run for another term as board president of Equality PA after two years at the helm, in which he oversaw the restructuring of the agency. He also recently stepped down from his two-year tenure as a member of the national campaign board of Victory Fund, which works to elect LGBT candidates to public office.
He noted that his experience with that organization proved influential in his decision to run for the state House.
“Victory Fund did a very good job of crunching the numbers and coming up with the data on the net effect an LGBT person can have in office, and when I joined the board, I just buried myself in those numbers,” he said. “What’s clear is that there is no statistical substitute for having a gay person in a legislative body — no matter how strong the allies, no matter how many the allies, LGBT issues that can be affected by the legislature are affected most when there is an openly gay person serving. From a school board to Congress, whether a gay person introduces a piece of pro-LGBT legislation or not, that person’s colleagues will be working with them on traffic law, on how to handle educational funding, and when that pro-LGBT bill comes up, they will have had all that time to interact with an LGBT person, which can have an enormous effect on furthering that legislation.”
Josephs, who has long been an ally to the LGBT community, has represented the 182nd District since 1984.
Sims, who served as Josephs’ campaign treasurer in the 2010 election cycle, said his run for office is not a commentary on her work on LGBT issues.
“It’s because of someone like Babette that I’m able to run,” he said. “It’s because of the attention she’s brought to women’s rights, reproductive rights, social-justice issues, civil rights and gay rights that someone like me has the opportunity to run and win in this district. Her work has allowed me to do it; it’s not despite it. Her approach since when she started serving was to create an environment where diversity — whether it be gender, sexual orientation, racial and ethnic diversity — could flourish, and that’s the case.”
When working with LGBT advocates to identify possible out candidates, Sims, who said community members have asked him to run numerous times, heard his name again.
“After years of trying to help get people elected who know our issues and then after years of also advocating for those issues, it became obvious to me that the person I was looking for for this district was me,” he said. “I sat down with some other people and we were looking at the people who live in this district and the people who could really make a change, and the list got shorter and shorter until ultimately we thought I’d be good for this.”
A policy attorney, Sims currently serves as president of the Gay and Lesbian Lawyers of Philadelphia. As the first openly gay football captain in the history of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, Sims also travels to college campuses throughout the country speaking on the issue of homophobia in sports.
Sims, 32, holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration and attained his law degree from Michigan State University School of Law.
Sims has served as the staff counsel for policy and planning at the Philadelphia Bar Association and last year was named to the National LGBT Bar Association’s “40 Best LGBT Lawyers Under 40.”
As the son of two Army colonels, Sims lived in 17 states growing up, settling in Pennsylvania in the early ’90s.
He said he comes from a “strong line of alpha-empowered women,” which influenced his development as a “diehard feminist” and his work on women’s rights.
While he said his family was supportive of his coming-out and stands behind his work on LGBT-rights issues, he noted that they don’t all share the same political ideals, which he said has given him invaluable preparation for the political world.
“As much as I wish it was about big, strong speeches and esoteric arguments, the Pennsylvania House is all about collaboration, and I think I have the benefit of a background and work that has shown me that I’m very able to bring people together,” he said. “I’m very good at sitting a bunch of people down who don’t think they agree on anything, who think they have no commonalities and who don’t think they can set 10 things aside to work on one, and actually get them to do it. We don’t need to agree on all of our issues to accomplish a lot. The House has been slowed down by an inability to collaborate.”
Sims said he would work to represent the interests of the 182nd District when it came to funding issues, education and environmental issues and to ensure fair treatment of groups like seniors and low-income Philadelphians when it came to areas like property reevaluations.
In terms of LGBT issues, Sims said he would be eager to work for the passage of the long-stalled LGBT nondiscrimination bill, as well as new antibullying measures and the strengthening of current antibullying laws.
While he’s confident in his ability to lead, Sims said he wouldn’t consider a lifelong career in politics.
“I have career aspirations and goals. I had been a disability attorney, and I could see myself going back to that,” he said. “I hope to stay in office just long enough to accomplish those things that are most meaningful to me and to the district. I don’t have the goal of becoming the first gay governor or mayor; my goal is to shorten the lifespan of a bunch of issues we’ve been working on for years.”
In the coming weeks, Sims will attend numerous national LGBT politically oriented events, such as the Victory Fund national conference and the Human Rights Campaign convention, to spread the news about his campaign and to fundraise.
He plans to open his campaign office Oct. 1, and then “it’s off to the races” with door-to-door introductions, fundraisers and “friendraisers.”
“I’ve got a really great team working with me. We are about to launch one of the largest, cleanest, healthiest, most well-funded and well-rounded campaigns this region has seen in way too long,” Sims said. “I hope that by running a large-scale campaign that draws on all of the communities I’ve worked with — fiercely intelligent people this region has always had but not used — that the inertia and volume of energy we will create is going to be something people will want to get on board with.”
*The print version of this story lists several of the candidate's friends and advisers as campaign staff; however, no campaign staff will be hired until October.
Jen Colletta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.