While the concept of a “Don’t Say Gay” bill may have been popularized by Tennessee, it’s also popping up elsewhere in the nation. Last month, Missouri also introduced a bill that would outlaw any discussion of sexual orientation or LGBT issues in schools, and which could potentially be used to restrict or prohibit GSAs. Specifically, the bill’s language says that “no instruction, material, or extracurricular activity sponsored by a public school that discusses sexual orientation other than in scientific instruction concerning human reproduction shall be provided in any public school.”
While the bill seems to have gained traction with many conservative voices in Missouri, one freshman Republican legislator isn’t a fan of it. Rep. Zach Wyatt spoke out against the bill last week, writing a letter to the media expressing his disappointment in the Missouri GOP and publicly opposing the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Today, he continued his campaign against the bill by coming out as “a proud Republican, a proud veteran, and a proud gay man.”
Rep. Wyatt had actually already announced his intent to withdraw from the Missouri House to pursue a degree in marine biology, but right now he’s the only out gay Republican currently holding state office. In his statement, Wyatt expresses regret that he’s toed the party line on issues of discrimination and school bullying in the past, and talked about a desire to help kids rather than allow the same kind of bullying that he’d experienced in the past to continue.
Among the things Wyatt said in his speech was that he is “not the first or last Republican to come out,” which is true, and that “being gay has never been a Republican or Democrat issue, and it should never be,” which is debatable. But Wyatt’s story does make an important point, which is that being gay is a fact of life for people in every demographic, regardless of political affiliation, religion, race, or culture. The “culture war” against queer people assumes that they belong to some monolithic group with identical (and imaginary) shared values, like “recruitment” or “cargo shorts.” But when people like Zach Wyatt come out, it helps illustrate that that isn’t true, and a bill that tries to erase gay people threatens everyone, and that even if Republicans don’t want to talk about the fact that gay people exist, we always will — and sometimes we’re sitting right next to them in a matching suit and tie.