I have written here before about Pennsylvania state politics and the hope that we will see a change for the better for LGBT citizens with the election of one or more out LGBT candidates. I wrote about Brian Sim’s campaign in particular because it was happening very nearly in my own back yard, and I was heavily involved from the first, cold days of canvassing in December to the night he announced victory to an ecstatic crowd awaiting the news at Woody’s, one of the Philly Gayborhood’s largest bars.
I spent so much of the campaign looking forward to Brian’s win, to his inauguration (possibly with other out LGBT freshman Representatives alongside him), to the first LGBT civil rights bill that he or they would spearhead and pass, that I didn’t realize how profoundly and positively the campaign was affecting me personally. There were days, reading vitriolic attack pieces posted online, that I wondered if I would ever be able to work on another campaign, yet alone run for office, something that has been a long time dream for me. As someone who draws most of their world view from Taoism and the need to act gently and with compassion, I wondered if American politics, increasingly partisan and bitter as it is, had any place for me.
Then, something powerful and unexpected happened. I engaged in vigorous debate, but refused to be pulled into ad hominem attacks or wild speculation. I would get caught off guard by a complex or pointed question while canvassing, but quickly I became more confident in my ability to answer them eloquently, or be direct about not knowing the answer, and connecting voters with someone in the campaign office who could speak to their concern. I began writing about the campaign here and found that my ability to write persuasively about politics had dramatically improved. In short, months of canvassing, writing, asking questions, and learning about the political process radically transformed my confidence, my abilities and, despite hundreds of years of history pointing to the contrary, the sense that I could have a voice in this arena.
After polls closed on election day we gathered an waited anxiously on the second floor of Woody’s, hoping that any minute we would receive confirmation that history had been made, and dreading that the news may not come. A friend assured me that his husband’s checking and rechecking of returns online meant Brian had won, but I was numb to the news until Brian and his entire campaign staff came confidently up the stairs, shoulders squared and eyes bright. It was then that my tears started flowing freely, and I followed them into the room as it erupted with raucous applause and cheers, punctuated by the pop of Champagne bottles opening.
As we all stood side by side for the victory speech, first from campaign director Matt Goldfine and then from Brian himself, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, along with many allies, wept, celebrated, and took in the feeling of standing at a turning point in our history. I was reminded of another stirring victory almost four years ago, when another politician, this one on the national stage, inspired a new generation of voters and ran a clean, vibrant, optimistic campaign that above all thrived on a feeling and a promise of hope. Yet unlike a national campaign, where a few percentage points could mean millions of voters, Brian had won by less than 250 votes, and each of us were marveling at our collective part in this historic win.
Those of us who canvassed for the past five months, dodging black ice on unsalted sidewalks and trying to keep campaign materials dry in driving rains, could each count “a-ha” moments with constituents when they connected with our message. Those of us who contributed financially to the campaign recognized our part int breaking the district’s fundraising record and the resulting direct mailing campaign that those funds made possible. Those of us who donated to The Victory Fund recognized their crucial role in the campaign, from providing training to LGBT candidates, including Brian, to fundraising for his campaign, to the incredible staff and volunteers they sent for the final get-out-the-vote efforts leading up to election day.
Just two days after the victory, I received an email from The Victory Fund asking “Are you next?” I have known for a long time that running for office is in my future, but this campaign, and now The Victory Fund, had placed politics front and center in my present. The email encouraged me to apply to their “Onward to Victory” contest to earn an all-expenses-paid candidate and campaign staff training. Working on campaigns is exactly what I want to be doing right now, and my own run may be far sooner than I had ever anticipated.
As someone who splits their time between freelancing as an artist and donating my time to three non-profit Boards of Directors, I am making a living, but don’t have the extra capital to get to the training, so this opportunity to earn a scholarship is potentially life changing. I hope readers of The New Civil Rights Movement will consider taking the sixty seconds to vote for me via The Victory Fund’s “Onward to Victory” Facebook app. It is free, and you only need to vote once. Empowered and inspired by my work on this historic campaign, I am ready to step up and become the next generation of LGBT leadership in Philadelphia, But, I can only do it with the help of kind readers like you.
J. Rudy Flesher, a Philadelphia based actor and author, holds a B.A. in Women’s and Gender Studies from The College of New Jersey, and is an award-winning feminist scholar. Ze blogs here and at The Pistol in Bed Thirteen, works with PhinLi Bookings to connect LGBTQ and sex positive talent with audiences, and is currently writing hir first book, an essay collection on the daily experiences of a genderqueer life. Ze will also be published in the forthcoming anthology “Beyond Masculinity.”
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