Last week I took my students to a lecture by Representative Brian Sims, PA state representative of the 182nd district. Sims is the first out LGBT member of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, he is a policy attorney and a civil rights activist. I was immediately impressed by Sims and his story. He is funny, engaging and authentic. He admitted that he is sometimes a bit "brash" and was clearly passionate about supporting and advocating for the rights and dignity of all people. Sims recently introduced H.B. 1686, the Pennsylvania Marriage Equality Act, he proposed a ban on anti-gay conversion "therapy" for minors, and supports a non-discrimination law that would protect LGBT individuals from discrimination.
One of the things that struck me most was the way that Sims talked about collaboration within politics. This was especially meaningful given the situation of the nation at the time. The day of his talk was more than a week into the federal government shutdown. While there is plenty of disagreement about the cause of the shutdown (and plenty of finger pointing) I don't think anyone would argue that it is the result of collaboration and mutual respect among politicians and between political parties. In fact the current state of politics in the USA seems to be built on vitriolic opposition of the "other."
Representative Sims talked about his own experiences being shut down and disrespected by some of his fellow state representatives. He also spoke proudly about being a Democrat, a feminist, and an LBGT advocate. But he did not assume that all members of a political party hold the same beliefs and values. He did not encourage partisanship but rather reminded the audience to approach everyone (especially those who we disagree with) with respect--to have conversations about why we want our representatives to pass laws which support the rights of all people. These laws are not a republican vs. democrat issue. They are issues of human dignity.
My students were amazed by Sims. Many said that they had never encountered a politician like him--and had not even envisioned one like him. I think we can all learn a lot from Sims' approach. I know how hard it can be for me sometimes to back down from argument, to listen to another perspective, to not assume that someone will disagree with me.
Balancing passion for an issue with collaboration is a tricky feat. But it is likely the only way to really get things done. People are rarely convinced of the value of an idea when it is presented to them in an adversarial way. If our goal is to "win" then by all means we should dig our heels in and take a competitive stance. But if our goal is to make the world a better place, to fight for social justice, to support the rights of all people, then a little collaboration just might be what we need.
Are you listening, congress?
EMPOWERTAINMENT aims to take a critical look at media in regards to how gender and women/girls are portrayed. From popular articles, videos, and websites, to original submissions, we want to not only examine the media and its relation to gender, but help shift it.