A Republican member of the Missouri House announced today that he is gay during a press conference on a bill that would limit public schools from discussing sexual orientation in the classroom. Zachary Wyatt of Kirksville told reporters he has deep regrets for not taking stands earlier against school bullying, and called for lawmakers to shelve the so-called “don’t say gay” bill.
With his disclosure today, Wyatt becomes the only current openly gay Republican state legislator in the nation.
St. Louis Public Radio’s Marshall Griffin talked with Wyatt about the bill and his decision to come out.
Here is a summary of their conversation:
Why was now the time to make this decision regarding yourself?
Wyatt: I really needed to step up and lead on this issue, especially from my party…we haven’t had an anti-bullying bill get to the governor’s desk in the last two years…we need to make sure we (do that) this year…on the (“Don’t say gay” bill), the Republican Party is putting a face as well to possibly people they are hurting when they put forth legislation like this, and I look forward to leading on the issue.
Rep. (Scott) Dieckhaus (R, Washington, Mo.) has said he would kill the bill in his committee, so why is there still the need to draw attention to it?
Wyatt: The bill even being filed itself brings a lot of questions to my mind of ‘where are we actually wanting to go as a state?’ I’ve already heard that the possibility of the bill being re-introduced next year – you know, that’s just not acceptable…I won’t be here next year to fight that, but I want to make sure we fight it enough this year that they know not to re-introduce it next year.
Have you heard of any attempts to take the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill and insert it as language into another bill?
Wyatt: That’s always a possibility, crazy things do happen down here…we’ll just see how it goes till the end of session.
Since making your announcement, what type of reception have you received from fellow lawmakers?
Wyatt: I’ve had great reception from both sides of the aisle…they talk about (how) it’s such a courageous thing to do…they say they don’t know if they could do it if put in the same situation…l’ll be the same person going to bed tonight as I was when I woke up this morning…I’m still a Republican to the core and vote with the Republican Party on a lot of issues.”
Was this something that you just recently came to a realization about yourself?
Wyatt: I can truly say that you always know in a way, but I lied to myself a lot about the whole issue…it wasn’t until about January that I was able to come into my mind and know I shouldn’t be lying to myself anymore about this…since I got out of high school in 2003, I was in the military, fast-paced life; the first day I got out of the military (I) went straight into campaigning for this office, then I got elected…it’s just been non-stop…so I hadn’t had the chance to sit down and reflect on my life and look at issues within my life until the holiday season this past year.
What are you going to do when you (leave) office (next year?)
Wyatt: I’m actually planning on attending the University of Hawaii and finishing out my Bachelors…in the military I was able to get two Associates degrees...I had planned on getting my Bachelor’s (degree) in Marine Biology.
As a military veteran I’m sure you have a unique perspective on the old “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy…what are your thoughts on the (new) policy?
Wyatt: In the different areas I was deployed to, we knew about people, people knew about me, and we didn’t really care, because as long as you can get the job done, you’re a great soldier, airman, seaman or Marine.
Anything else you want to throw in?
Wyatt: I look forward to the last couple of weeks of session…I think it’s going to be a quite interesting one.