Meet Rep. Brian Sims: Philly's Brains and Brawn With a Cause

Pennsylvania's first openly gay elected official on being an out athlete, Russia's antigay Winter Olympics, and serving the Northeast's lone marriage equality holdout.

BY Roman Feeser

August 30 2013 6:00 AM ET

As an attorney and longtime outspoken advocate for LGBT equality, Philadephia's Rep. Brian Sims knows the right thing to do is not always accompanied by the right to do it. While trying to speak on the Pennsylvania House floor about the Supreme Court's decision to strike down section 3 of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act in June, the gay state representative found himself silenced by a procedural move

As the former captain of an NCAA Division II championship football team at Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania, the 35-year-old Sims is not used to getting sidelined. A true believer in the judicial system, he continues to pursue LGBT rights in the Keystone State, an effort that extends far beyond marriage recognition. The fiery Democrat took time out of his active political schedule to discuss gay athletes, the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and why it’s hard to keep a good man down. 

The Advocate: Brian, you came out to your team after a Division II national championship. What was the catalyst for the timing?
Brian Sims: The truth is that the catalyst was them: the team. I’m very fond of telling people my teammates came out to me, I didn’t really come out to them.  

How does a team come out to its closeted captain?
I was visiting Shippensburg University — one of our sister schools, [and] one of our rivals — with members of my team. While there, the quarterback pulled me aside and asked if I was gay. I told him that I was! We had a long drive home with a couple of other guys from the team. [My teammates were] curious, and the whole time they sort of peppered me with a ton of questions — all good, all respectful.

When we got back, they asked if it was all right to talk to the rest of the team. And I  don’t want to say "to my surprise," it went really well … because I hope that’s going to become more the norm for young, out athletes. My teammates were looking out for me; they were doing the thing that teammates are supposed to do.

You mention the team had a lot of questions for you. Were they questions you could answer at that point in your life?
Some were and some weren’t. Some were about my personal experience as a guy in the closet at a school that didn’t have much of an LGBT presence. Those were just basics I could answer about myself and my experience. Larger questions about the LGBT community. Larger questions about my role as a gay man … I didn’t have any answers to those.

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