- The Magazine
On Wednesday morning, November 4, 2020, as the presidential election results hung in the balance, Brian Sims, who was significantly leading in his race for a fifth term in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, tweeted out a missive aimed at calming those distraught over the vision of a scarlet red Pennsylvania.
“MORNING COUNTS,” he wrote. “We called it a Red Mirage because we knew the lack of mail-in ballot counts would make Election Day skew to the Right. Now votes are getting counted & Pennsylvania, Michigan & Wisconsin, are coming into focus. #Biden will keep pulling ahead today. #CountEveryVote”
Sure enough, hours later, the state slowly appeared to be trending blue as mail-in votes were, one by one, counted. President Trump, of course, would prefer that the vote-counting stopped, but there is no chance of that. This is America, and in America every vote counts. And Sims felt certain the election would be played out legally and fairly in his state, likely to the chagrin of Trump and his lot.
On the phone, a few hours later, to reflect on the ongoing election and the historic Delaware win for fellow politician Sarah McBride, the first transgender person to win a State Senate seat, Sims was brimming with optimism and hope. It was tempered by realism as well, but his tone had that ferocity and fight that those who follow his social media videos are both accustomed to and find reassuring. Sims has always been a politician who fights for the greater good, and there is a brightness that explodes from within him, radiating to everyone who pays attention to his messages of fairness, justice, and equality.
“I am right where I belong right now,” says Sims when asked about any future political aspirations. “Pennsylvania is on the verge of finally having an authentic Democratic representation that will support the issues that I’ve been leading on for 10 years in the General Assembly. And if I’m done with this job eventually and it feels like there’s a place for me in federal government, then I’ll explore it.”
METRO WEEKLY: Let’s start with your race this year. What was it like for you?
BRIAN SIMS: You know, it was relatively standard, frankly, in that I live in a very high information district. I represent the center of Philadelphia. There are a lot of people here that are very informed, that have lots of resources. Generally I have a challenger in the primary every single cycle. I always do. I did this year. The only unique things about my primary this year is that because it was the first time Pennsylvania ever had mail-in ballots, it took twenty two days to certify the results instead of twenty two hours. For almost three weeks, the results of my election weren’t official. When they were, I did win my primary by the widest margin of any contested race I’ve ever had, and that was pretty nice. It was a good way to go into the general election. I had a Republican challenger in the general and right now I’m winning by sixty two percent, which I believe is the widest margin of any contested race in the General Assembly.
MW: But as of this moment, as we’re speaking, you haven’t claimed victory.
SIMS: There’s no way to call it. And I’m going to hold off until all of my other colleagues’ races are counted. I’m not trying to make anybody feel like they need to prematurely decide these things. When we call the president in Pennsylvania, I’ll call my own. But things are looking good. It means I’m going to be reelected to my fifth term.
[Editor’s Note: Since this interview took place, Brian Sims officially emerged victorious in his race.]
MW: You are often viciously attacked on social media, especially by people who are anti-LGBTQ. How do you personally absorb those kinds of public attacks?
SIMS: I’ll say first and foremost, I never went into politics with the thought that it would shield me from homophobia or shield me from attacks. You know, as long as I have been in the Pennsylvania General Assembly, I have led the legislature in death threats and bomb threats. The negativity that’s aimed at me in my official position is well-documented over my eight years in office.
The better answer to your question — or perhaps the most real answer to your question — is that there is nothing that happens to me, even on my worst day as a legislator, that is worse than what happens to far too many LGBTQ people across the country, and certainly across the Commonwealth [of Pennsylvania]. I went into this for all of those people, and I am still in this job for that exact same reason. No amount of negativity that has ever been aimed at me is worse than a trans woman of color getting beat the hell up on the street or killed. I still have a job. I still have a roof over my head. I still carry with me a ton of privileges when I walk into a room. And so, yeah, I am the tip of the spear in the face of the shield, as many LGBTQ people are. But there is nothing that happens to me that’s worse than what is happening to the people that I fight for every day. And that’s a very easy, very prescient reminder for me.
MW: I watched the presidential election results till about 3 a.m. and finally gave in and went to bed. This morning, the first thing I awoke to was your “MORNING COUNTS” tweet. It’s brimming with optimism.
SIMS: And I was right. It’s already playing out. Wisconsin just went for Biden. We should know Pennsylvania by this evening.
MW: Yet the president is already claiming fraud and disenfranchisement. He’s attempting to grab a fake victory ahead of the facts. How do we deal with a president that refuses to play by any kind of normal rules?
SIMS: What I am very comfortable with is that, for as much of a dumpster fire as his administration has been, and as much of a crook as he is, Donald Trump has no control over the Pennsylvania General Assembly, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and the governor’s mansion. He has no control over Pennsylvania election law. As much as he would like to have those things, we have hundreds of years of jurisprudence that take those out of his hands. We have seen what he does with the things in his control, and it’s dastardly. But these are out of his control.
MW: You seem moderately confident Pennsylvania will swing towards Biden.
SIMS: I feel extremely confident. There are just about a million more mail-in ballots left to be counted. What we’ve seen of the ballots that have already been counted is that they break for Joe Biden somewhere between 66 and 71 percent of the time. All we need of these remaining million is for fifty five percent of them to go to Joe Biden and he wins the state of Pennsylvania.
MW: That’s significant. What are the president’s resources beyond threats? I mean, he can take it to the Supreme Court, but really this isn’t Bush v. Gore territory.
SIMS: No. And he doesn’t have a leg to stand on. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has been very clear: Ballots that were cast on time and mailed on time will still be counted so long as they’re received by Friday. That’s the law. It’s been the law. And that’s pretty standard. Based on that alone, I feel very comfortable.
Can Donald Trump and his lawyers file lawsuits? Of course they can. They were going to anyway — we’ve been watching their legal teams ramp up. But everybody in America knows that the difference between filing a lawsuit and having a leg to stand on in a lawsuit are two completely different things. Donald Trump has lived his life as kind of a litigious prick, suing and suing and suing his way to the top. And that’s not going to work here.
MW: One of the more frequent sentiments expressed on Twitter last night is that people appear very dismayed over the fact that there wasn’t a huge blue wave as predicted. That, in fact, Donald Trump did as well as he did even after these last four nightmarish years. What is it about this guy? How is it possible that he still can get 30 million votes beyond his base? What is going on with America here?
SIMS: I, like everybody else, am wondering the same thing. But I’m not completely shocked. Every single person of color that I know and that I’ve talked to last night or this morning about this exact issue has not been shocked. We are a country deeply rooted in racism. What we learned in 2016 and frankly, what we’re seeing affirmed right now, is that there are plenty of people who would rather burn this country to the ground — or at least turn a blind eye while somebody else is burning it to the ground — rather than either admit their own racism or allow equality to flourish. That’s not a particularly American value that I recognize, but I think that’s what’s going on.
There are too many people for whom extreme racism, extreme xenophobia, extreme homophobia, is not only a deal breaker, but they’re looking for that in somebody — and they’re willing to watch everybody else go down to get it. But they’re losing. Make no mistake about it: there are more people in this country that believe in equality. There are more people in this country that are anti-racist than racist. We have suffered through years of gerrymandering, years of corporate influence, years of court stacking. But I don’t want to mistake the outcome of those nefarious acts for the reality of who we are as a people. We as a people believe in equality. Our systems have been hijacked from us to make that not appear true. But it is true.
MW: Let’s say Biden wins. Do you think there’s a way to heal the country?
SIMS: I do. Very much so. And I’ll tell you why I think that: Because at Thanksgiving dinner, every single one of us have family around us that disagree with us politically. Everyone always talks about what it’s like to sit around these holiday dinners, and we do it because we love our family and we love the people around us, even when we disagree with them. Americans have a very rich history of getting along as much as we have a rich history of hating one another. And right now I do honestly believe that more Americans are looking around their neighborhoods, looking at their families, looking at the communities they occupy and are thinking, “Wait a second, have the things that I have supported these last four years made things better for any of you?” And they haven’t. And that’s why I have such optimism right now.
MW: What do you think a Biden win will mean for the fight against COVID?
SIMS: If there’s a Biden win, we’re probably going to have to go on some kind of lockdown — at least on the Eastern Seaboard — in the next month or two. If Trump wins, I think that’s a little less likely, although the governors could collectively do it. But a Biden win means that we go on a national lockdown January to March, which is what we’ve seen around Europe. If done well, it could be all that it takes to allow us to have a real summer.
MW: Finally, can you express what Sarah McBride’s historic win means to you?
SIMS: I’m so excited about Sarah McBride. Sarah’s race is a reminder that the American public is ready for authenticity in politics. Americans don’t always know exactly what we want — but right now we know what we don’t want. And we don’t want any more fake-ass bullshit in politics. There is nothing fake about Sarah. She is as real and as authentic as a person can be. She wears her empathy and her respect for other people on her sleeve. And that’s the kind of people that we want in office. And now she’s going to be the ranking trans person in any legislature in America. What’s even better about that is that she will be one of the people that absolutely guarantees that she is quickly followed by more.
I want to mention another race, as well: Jess Benham. She’s about to accept her Pennsylvania win. Jess is openly bisexual and openly autistic, and she will be one of only a handful of openly bi legislators in all of America. And she believes she might be the only openly autistic legislator in the United States. She’s an autism advocate and an LGBTQ activist. And she is about to occupy a seat in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
I have very, very, very high hopes for these next couple of years in government. I really do. I’m not wearing rose colored glasses. We are electing some of the best [LGBTQ] people in government. And I think in about ten years, you and I will be looking back at this era and thinking that it was the beginning, that it was the ashes that launched the best era in American democracy.
Follow Brian Sims on Twitter and Instagram at @BrianSimsPA.
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