Feelings of hope and change were oozing out of City Hall last night, when PA State Rep. Brian Sims took his oath of office in Courtroom 653. It was a mostly ceremonial affair, given that he was officially sworn in to his new position on the Pennsylvania General Assembly in December. Before it started, I asked him if he was nervous and he said, “No, because everybody else has to do the talking.” And that’s exactly what happened. Distinguished folks from Harrisburg and the community were present to offer our new gay representative words of encouragement and praise. Sims mostly sat there and blushed.
Among those speaking from the capital were Rep. Cherelle Parker, who gave a fiery speech about Sims’ fight for equality, but reminded him he’d have other issues to deal with. “Never let anyone put you in a box,” she said. House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody gushed about Sims’ accomplishments and what it means for the future: “He has shown what is possible and others will follow.”
There were also touching words imparted from local activists, like Philadelphia Gay News publisher Mark Segal, who offered advice that the most effective way to make change is to work with others. “Come halfway down the hill and hold out your hand,” he said. “You will be criticized, but don’t listen. We as the LGBT community have your back.” Civil Rights activist and author David Mixner was a force. Talking about his years fighting for equality with pioneers like Harvey Milk, he looked right at Sims and said, “You can’t be as good as those who came before you … you have to be better.”
In a hugely symbolic moment for the gay community, Sims was sworn in by gay judge Dan Anders, who, in a charming, off-the-cuff closing speech, Sims referred to as his Philly Fairy Godmother. After several touching thank you’s to those who spoke, the representative closed with one of his favorite quotes from Benjamin Franklin, who on that day would have celebrated his 307th birthday: “Be civil to all; serviceable to many; familiar with few; friend to one; enemy to none” — words, he told the packed courtroom, that are indicative of how he plans to carry out his job in Harrisburg.
Check out photos from the ceremony and the following reception in the Law Library after the jump.