The LGBT community watched Tuesday as President Barack Obama was elected for a second term, giving him four more years to fight for LGBT issues. However, this election also made history for the LGBT community both on the national and local levels.
Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin was elected as the country’s first openly LGBT U.S. Senator, and Brian Sims was elected as the first openly gay state lawmaker in Pennsylvania
“Being out really does make the difference in electing LGBT people,” Sims said Tuesday night. “We know that things really do change when you elect out people.”
In the spring, Sims defeated longtime Rep. Babette Josephs (D-182nd Dist.) and was unopposed in Tuesday’s election.
Three other state House candidates were poised to make history with him — Christopher Dietz, Kelly McEntee and Jeff Dahlander — but none claimed victory.
Dietz lost to incumbent Susan Helm (R-104th Dist.) by a 54.5-45.5 margin, a difference of about 2,600 votes.
“I know that both Chris and Kelly really put their hearts and souls into the races.” Sims said in an interview with PGN Wednesday morning. “I know they are feeling pretty good about the way they ran their campaign and their races. For me personally and professionally, it was important for me to have them there in Harrisburg.”
Despite the loss, Dietz said he learned a lot during his campaign and was able to heighten LGBT awareness. He said media coverage across the state included references to his sexual orientation.
“We had multiple different articles that talked about it. I think that people saw that and it was part of the conversation and I think we have advanced with the conversation,” he said.
While his own election was historic, Sims also gave credit to the other out candidates for helping to heighten visibility.
“It is important we get the message out about LGBT people,” Sims said. “[The fact] that we had an openly lesbian and gay man do well lets people across the commonwealth know that we are here and we are working for our rights and we are working for the commonwealth.”
Dietz said his orientation was not an issue throughout his campaign.
He recalled when he and Sims participated in Williamstown’s Halloween Parade, he heard a conversation during which a young man pointed to Dietz’s car and said to a friend, “That’s the gay candidate.” Dietz said the girl turned to the boy and said, “Yes, and I am voting for him, are you?”
“My campaign moved forward conversation in areas that might not usually talk about LGBT issues. I am happy with being able to do that,” he said.
Dietz said several people have come out to him while he was on the campaign trail.
“It is giving people the strength to be who they are and help them with their process. It has been a wonderful experience for me all across the board,” he said.
Elsewhere, McEntee lost to Republican incumbent Rep. Ron Marsico (105th Dist.) 65-35 percent, and Dahlander lost 71-29 to Republican incumbent Sandra Major (111th Dist.).
Sims said he is eager to have other out candidates eventually join him in the state legislature.
“We know that no state has ever recognized relationships between LGBT people and done it without having a first out legislature,” Sims said. “There are 12-and-a-half million people in this state — potentially 1 million LGBT people in Pennsylvania — and they should have a lot more than just one out representative.”
Once he takes office in January, Sims said he’s looking forward to advancing an LGBT-inclusive statewide nondiscrimination measure, which he predicted could pass in his inaugural term.
“We know from states all across the country, we know from chambers of commerce that being LGBT-inclusive, that having LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination policies, is good for business. I think Pennsylvania Democrats and Republicans are poised to take this step towards making Pennsylvania more attractive to businesses.”
Dietz is also hopeful for equality to become a reality in Pennsylvania.
“I think we are going to win equality. It doesn’t only come from laws and the government but it comes from people’s hearts and I think that is what is going to make it go forward.”
Delaware has yet to elect an out LGBT state lawmaker. Two candidates, Andrew Staton and Marie Mayor, who ran for the state Senate and House, respectively, fell to Republicans Tuesday.
History was made nationally, as Baldwin ascends from the U.S. House to the Senate.
“Tammy Baldwin has always been a trailblazer, but with her victory tonight, Sen.-elect Baldwin has again earned her spot in the history books,” said Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin. “[She has had] a relentless focus on the issues that matter most to Wisconsin voters — economic security, access to healthcare, and fairness and inclusion for all. As a result, she’s earned the respect of all her constituents, gay and straight. It was HRC’s privilege to be part of the broad coalition that helped ensure her victory, and we can’t wait to work with her and her team as she takes on this new role.”
From our media partners at PGN-The Philadelphia Gay News.