Gay legislators carry weight with colleagues

Mariela Castro , niece of Fidel Castro and daughter of Cuban President Raul Castro, visits the Liberty Bell, with help from park ranger and interpreter Karl Schaffenburg. She is Cuba's premier sexologist and was here as a guest of the Equality Forum, which had a panel discussion among gay politicians at the National Constitution Center. See story on B1 and a video at www.inquirer.com/castro. APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer
Mariela Castro , niece of Fidel Castro and daughter of Cuban President Raul Castro, visits the Liberty Bell, with help from park ranger and interpreter Karl Schaffenburg. She is Cuba's premier sexologist and was here as a guest of the Equality Forum, which had a panel discussion among gay politicians at the National Constitution Center. See story on B1 and a video at www.inquirer.com/castro. APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer
Posted: May 04, 2013

State Rep. Brian K. Sims, the first openly gay candidate to win a legislative election in Pennsylvania, recently was asked by another lawmaker to explain a proposed antidiscrimination measure.

" 'Tell me about your gay bill,' " Sims recalled Rep. Mario Scavello, a Monroe County Republican, asking him on the floor of the House.

Three other Republicans who were nearby listened as Sims argued that it was overdue for Pennsylvania to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected categories such as race, religion, age, and disability.

Sims, addressing an audience Friday afternoon at the National Constitution Center, said he gained Scavello's support as well as the support of the three other Republicans who happened to be there.

Sims, a Democrat who represents Center City, was joined by three other gay and lesbian elected officials on the panel organized by Equality Forum, a nonprofit that promotes gay-rights education.

Sims relayed his anecdote as the legislative highlight of his first few months in office, but it also bolstered a point made by Alex Morse, who last year became the first openly gay mayor of Holyoke, Mass.

"I think it's important to have someone at the table," Morse said.

State Rep. Mike Fleck, a Huntingdon County Republican who in December went public that he was gay, told the audience that his fellow Republican colleagues in the House "have been tremendously supportive."

Fleck, who serves a rural district southwest of State College, ran unopposed in 2012. He came out after the election. Whether his disclosure has motivated an opponent or opponents remains to be seen.

"Next time it will be different," he said.

Not everything has to do with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues, the officials said.

"There is no gay agenda to fix potholes," Morse said.

Mary Washington, a lesbian state legislator from Maryland, talked about how she pushed a bill to prohibit employers from demanding Facebook passwords. She was concerned generally about privacy rights, she said.

"I didn't think, 'Oh, I'm a lesbian. I want to protect other gay people,' " she said.


>Inquirer.com

Mariela Castro, niece of Fidel Castro, tours the Liberty Bell on a visit to Philadelphia. Go to www.inquirer.com/castro


Contact Robert Moran at 215-854-5983, or bmoran@phillynews.com, or follow @RobertMoran215 on Twitter.

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