Brian Sims, Openly Gay State Rep., Urges Pat Toomey To Support ENDA

11/01/2013 01:26 pm ET | Updated Nov 01, 2013

WASHINGTON -- As the Senate prepares to vote on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act next week, the first openly-gay person elected to Pennsylvania's State Legislature is calling on Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) to support the bill.

Brian Sims (D-Philadelphia) penned an open letter to Toomey on Friday, urging the senator to vote in favor of the landmark piece of legislation that would prohibit workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Sims called on Toomey to not only back the bill when it comes up for a vote, but also to sign on as a co-sponsor.

"Senator, I not only urge you as an openly gay man, but also as a fellow lawmaker and Pennsylvanian to vote in favor of ENDA when the legislation comes up for a vote next week, but I encourage you in the strongest terms possible to state right now, unequivocally, that you will be a co-sponsor of the bill as well," Sims wrote.

"In short, Senator, I believe that there is no single piece of civil rights legislation in existence that is more impactful to members of the LGBT community than a fully inclusive ENDA," Sims added. "This legislation does not create special rights, but simply includes hardworking LGBT people among the categories of Americans which the government is already protecting from employment discrimination. No one should lose their job, be subjected to discriminatory treatment or harassment, or be denied the opportunity for advancement because of bigotry, fear or hatred."

Toomey spokeswoman E.R. Anderson told The Huffington Post the senator is undecided on the bill, which has the support of every Senate Democrat. Just two Republicans, Sens. Mark Kirk (Ill.) and Susan Collins (Maine), are co-sponsors on ENDA, although Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) voted the bill out of committee in July. Activists expect them to vote for the bill's final passage, but Hatch signaled he wants to see some changes before ENDA hits the Senate floor.

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, the first Republican to endorse same-sex marriage after learning his son was gay, said he is "inclined to support" the legislation.

Although Toomey is known as a staunch conservative, the politics around gay rights have noticeably shifted in Pennsylvania. LGBT advocates have spent recent months chipping away at the state's 1996 gay marriage ban. Some lawmakers, including Sims, have pressed Republican Gov. Tom Corbett to follow New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's (R) example and drop legal challenges to same-sex marriages in the state.

In his letter to Toomey, Sims focuses solely on ENDA and notes that a number of LGBT advocacy groups, such as Human Rights Campaign, the Pennsylvania Council of Churches, Equality Pennsylvania, Keystone Progress and Americans for Workplace Opportunity, have issued similar calls for the senator's backing.

Sims penned a similar letter earlier this year on the issue of gay marriage to Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, at the time one of the few Democratic senators who had yet to embrace the issue.

Read Sims' full letter to Toomey below:

Dear Senator Toomey,

As I am sure you know, the nation learned in the last several days that not only will the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) likely be put up for a long overdue vote next week by Sen. Harry Reid, but also that the three remaining members of the Senate Democratic Caucus who were not yet supporters of the bill, now indicate their support. These Senators have added their voices to the majority of the Senate which supports this bill, including a number of your Republican colleagues who have either signed on as co-sponsors or voted the bill out of Committee.

In short, Senator, I believe that there is no single piece of civil rights legislation in existence that is more impactful to members of the LGBT community than a fully inclusive ENDA. This legislation does not create special rights, but simply includes hardworking LGBT people among the categories of Americans which the government is already protecting from employment discrimination. No one should lose their job, be subjected to discriminatory treatment or harassment, or be denied the opportunity for advancement because of bigotry, fear or hatred.

Standing up for all Americans, and against discrimination and injustice, is fundamental to who we are as a nation. While we all continue to grapple with issues of faith, morality, family and government, what is clear is that we are a people who believe in giving everyone a fair shot and a fair shake. Our laws have been incomplete, and as a result, millions of our friends, family members, neighbors and co-workers have been allowed to fall through the cracks. You have a tremendous opportunity on the horizon to fix this mistake, and to proclaim your support for a more equal nation.

Senator, I not only urge you as an openly gay man, but also as a fellow lawmaker and Pennsylvanian to vote in favor of ENDA when the legislation comes up for a vote next week, but I encourage you in the strongest terms possible to state right now, unequivocally, that you will be a co-sponsor of the bill as well.

Despite our political differences, I have always agreed with your steadfast commitment to job creation and increasing economic opportunities for the state. I also know you to be a man of respect and integrity and while I know that the fringe opposition to equality may be a difficult burden to bear at times, the citizens of Pennsylvania are clear in their overwhelming support for these types of basic, commonsense protections.

In these last weeks you have heard from organizations like the Human Rights Campaign, the Pennsylvania Council of Churches, Equality Pennsylvania, Keystone Progress, Americans for Workplace Opportunity and others, all asking you to show your support for ENDA and recognize what nearly three quarters of the Commonwealth, almost 9 million Pennsylvanians already know, that we are a nation that deserves full equality for all of our family members and neighbors and we should settle for nothing less.

Please sign on as a co-sponsor of ENDA before it’s too late and please vote to affirm the American tradition of protecting and defending the civil liberties of all people.

Sincerely,
Rep. Brian Sims
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

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