JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KMOX) - A Missouri Republican legislator, Rep. Zachary Wyatt, of Green Castle, held a press conference Wednesday to come out publicly as a gay man and to speak against a bill banning discussion of sexual orientation in public schools.
“Being gay has never been a Democrat or Republican issue, and it should never be,” Wyatt said.
Wyatt decided to come out publicly in order to draw attention to issues such as sexual orientation discrimination and bullying in schools. During the press conference, Wyatt, who served in the US Air Force, said that he regrets not coming forward on these issues earlier, and wishes that he had not gone against his beliefs in order to support his party.
Five Republicans, along with several members of the Democratic Party, attended the press conference in support of Wyatt.
Rep. Steve Cookson, R-Fairdealing, is sponsoring the bill. Cookson said in a press release last week that sexual orientation should be discussed at home, not in a school setting, and schools should focus on academia rather than sexual orientation.
The proposal, which has been labeled the “don’t say gay” bill by opponents, bans discussion of sexual orientation in classes, material, and any activity or group sponsored by a public school. Several members of the Republican Party have cosponsored the bill, including House Speaker Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, and Majority Leader Tim Jones, R-St. Louis County.
The bill has received media attention across the country. National outlets such as the Huffington Post have covered the story and the bill was also recently featured on a late night political comedy show, The Colbert Report.
Members of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender groups have criticized the bill, which would ban school clubs such as Gay Straight Alliances. PROMO, a Missouri organization that advocates for LGBT rights, has created an online petition and video campaign against the bill.
Wyatt said he felt it was important to speak out against the bill because the bill could prevent kids from discussing bullying.
One of the co-sponsors of the bill, Rep. Lyle Rowland, R-Cedarcreek, said that the bill is not trying to prevent students from talking about their sexual orientation or seeking help in school.
“If they have problems, we’ve got counselors, some schools have social workers, and that’s going to give them an outlet for being able to discuss what they need to discuss in a private situation,” Rowland said.
Rowland said he is not opposed to schools discussing sexual orientation in terms of current events or answering questions, but he does not believe it should be included in permanent curriculum.
Although supporters of the bill say that students can address questions and issues with sexual orientation at home, Wyatt, who said he was bullied in high school, said that kids cannot always turn to their parents.
“I think they should be able to trust their counselors or their teachers or even administrators on issues regarding their sexuality,” Wyatt said. “I think they should be in a safe setting where they’d be able to speak about and hopefully not be bullied for it.”
Although the bill was assigned to the House Education Committee, Committee Chairman Scott Dieckhaus, R-Washington, said there will not be a hearing on the bill.
Rowland said, that although the bill is unlikely to move forward, it has encouraged legislators and the public to discuss the issue of sex and sexual orientation in schools.