Brian Sims, Openly Gay College Football Star Part 2

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Paul M. Banks has an exclusive and candid interview with a social trailblazer and role model to many people.
Brian Sims is a former College Football star, prominent legal professional, crusader for LGBT civil rights and inspiration to many. For some reason, the mainstream media has yet to tell his amazing story, so I will…

Paul M. Banks: Do you think it’ll be a coach or a team’s front office that will be instrumental for instilling an atmosphere of tolerance for that first openly gay player on a major men’s team sport?

Brian K. Sims: I think this will absolutely fall to the coaches. To all athletes at all levels, coaches set the tone. Coaches decide what behavior is right and what is wrong. They decide what is punished and what is commended. I truly believe that just one coach who says to his team “this guy is gay and it’s not going to be a problem for any of you. If you have a problem with it, you have a problem with me and a problem with this team.” It’s that simple.

I imagine at some point or another, every college and professional coach that brought in the team’s first African-American player had to say something along these lines to his team. “This is fine because I say it’s fine!” At the very least, that will buy that player a level of security he will need to excel in the short term and prove himself to his team, as all players have to do.

Banks: Tell us about what you do know, your activism in the gay rights movement, the work you do in the legal field, committees and organizations you’re a part of etc.

Sims: I’ve become very active in the last 4 or 5 years around LGBT politics and advocacy simply because people look to my experience and want to know what made it happen. I have the enormous benefit of coming to advocacy not as a slighted person trying to get back at anyone, but as a relatively unscathed person who knows how good things can be and how close we are to being there.

I don’t carry a chip on my shoulder. I carry the knowledge that people (all people) are more tolerant and more accepting than they may initially feel like they can be. Giving people permission to be tolerant can be a very powerful tool. I go into conversations assuming that the person I’m speaking with is a smart, exposed, and tolerant individual and I’m hard to sway off that assumption.

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A lot, if not most, LGBT folks have had some incredibly lousy experiences with other people and it’s easy, even natural to be cautious or suspicious of motivations. I don’t feel the need to be cautious and I think that translates well…especially when dealing with folks who are initially uncomfortable with their own lack of knowledge or exposure on LGBT issues.

I’m currently the Staff Counsel for Policy & Planning at the Philadelphia Bar Association. The PBA is the oldest metropolitan bar association in the country and has had a commitment to diversity for decades.

I work with the Association’s leadership (Chancellor, Board of Governors and Executive Director) to pursue and implement the legislative agenda of the Bar Association. Provide professional support to all Committees & Sections of the Association on legislation pending at the local, state and federal levels.

An example of the work I do here is a Resolution that we’ve passed in support of a recently introduced House Bill (HB 300) that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of characteristics that the state protects against discrimination in housing, employment & public accommodations.

Right now, Pennsylvania is one of the states that does not have state-wide protections against discrimination for LGT folks and because the federal government does not either, the vast majority of LGBT Pennsylvanians have no recourse if they’re kicked out of their apartment or fired for being gay.

When you poll on this issue, even in a state like Pennsylvania , pretty much everyone agrees that the state should not be in the business of discrimination. Whether or not you support marriage equality or federal protections, Pennsylvanians support non-discrimination (85% at the highest in Philadelphia, and 59% at the lowest in the rural regions) and yet this law hasn’t passed in any cycle it’s been introduced and isn’t likely to pass anytime soon.

Almost every state we touch has LGBT non-discrimination laws (Ohio , New Jersey , New York , Delaware) and yet it’s not a reality in PA. That’s screwy at best and bigotry at worst. I promise that Iowa will not stay a more progressive state than PA for very long!

Aside from the Bar, I am the President of the Gay & Lesbian Lawyers of Philadelphia and a Board Member of Equality Advocates of Pennsylvania which is the only state-wide LGBT advocacy group in PA. Both groups, especially the latter, work very hard to give our legislators the tools they need to respond to attacks from the right on LGBT issues and to let them know that they have the support of their constituents, whether they know it or not! We’re getting there…


Essentially, I spent a great deal of my time talking to legislators, other affinity groups, and straight people about issues of discrimination, bills pending at the state and local level, the future of LGBT policies and politics, and generally showing and explaining that this is certainly the civil rights fight of my generation…a fight that has taken far less time to gain traction that the African-American civil rights movement and a fight that can be won by making sure our allies have our support…

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  1. paulmbanks says

    One thing I really like about Division II and I-AA football is that the players pretty much know that making a living based on playing professional football is out of the question, and they play for the love of the game and often tend to be serious students. It’s always very interesting to me to hear the success stories of former athletes, especially at this level.

    On a side note, I’m surprised to hear that Pennsylvania is so far behind these other states in their laws, and public sentiment towards gays. It’s going to have to change for the better soon!

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