Zach Wyatt's courageous stand shames Missouri House leaders
The Kansas City Star
Something good has actually resulted from Missouri Rep. Steve Cookson’s horrible proposal that the state of Missouri ban discussion of sexuality in public schools.
Cookson’s bill, and the backlash to it, prompted state Rep. Zach Wyatt, a Republican from the Kirksville area, to publicly disclose that he is gay. Incredibly, he is thought to be the only openly gay Republican serving in any state legislature in the nation.
Wyatt, a 27-year-old Air Force veteran and cattle farmer, denounced Cookson’s legislation, which would have banned gay-straight alliance groups in schools and prohibited students and teachers from having a frank discussion about respecting differences centered on sexuality.
“Today I ask you to stand with me as a proud Republican, a proud veteran and a proud gay man who wants to protect all kids addressing bullying in our schools,” Wyatt said at a news conference.
He said he only recently acknowledged to himself that he was gay, and told his family and close friends, whom he said were “very, very supportive.”
Cookson, of Fairdealing in southeast Missouri, said in an interview this week that he considers homosexuality to be a sin. He isn’t backing down, though he acknowledges the chances of getting his bill passed this session are remote.
He said the legislation only seeks to keep any discussion of sexual orientation out of the classroom and doesn’t specifically mention homosexuality. Schools should focus on core subjects like math and science and leave everything else to parents, he said.
He has said that he considers discussions of sexuality in schools to be “social engineering.”
It’s not really unusual for legislators to push bills promoting their social and religious beliefs, which is what I think prompted Cookson. The reason this bill has gained widespread attention (including a riff on the Colbert Report) is because House Speaker Steve Tilley and House Majority Leader Tim Jones signed on as cosponsors, along with seven other Republican House members.
Those two have refused to disavow the legislation, despite the distraction and embarrassment it has brought to the legislature and Missouri. But now they find themselves in conflict with a dignified member of their own party, who said Cookson’s bill “would hurt young (people) in schools throughout the state of Missouri.”
Tilley and Jones have a choice. They can stand behind a bill that promotes bigotry or they can stand with Wyatt in the realization that sexuality is a fundamental part of one’s identity and can’t be expunged by a bogus state law.