By Kevin Murphy
KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) - A Missouri state lawmaker who is not running for reelection announced on Wednesday that he is gay, the first state-level Republican politician in the nation to do so, according to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund.
Missouri state Representative Zachary Wyatt, 27, announced his sexual orientation in a news conference at the Missouri state Capitol in Jefferson City. Wyatt said later in an interview that he did so because he wanted to openly oppose a proposal to ban discussion of sexual orientation in Missouri public schools.
"I really need to educate people on this issue," Wyatt said. "I really wanted to step up as a leader and not be in the background any more."
His decision to go public came on the heels of the resignation this week of an openly gay spokesman for the presidential campaign of presumed Republican nominee Mitt Romney. Richard Grenell resigned amid reports that conservatives opposed having him in such a high profile position.
The Missouri bill opposed by Wyatt is sponsored by several Republicans, and would prohibit any "instruction, material or extra-curricular activity" on sexual orientation from being part of public school teaching, except in studying human reproduction.
Dubbed the "Don't Say Gay" bill by opponents, it is still being debated in a committee and not expected to reach the House floor in the last 10 days of the state's legislative session.
Supporters of the measure have said sexual orientation is best discussed in private. Wyatt said the bill is short-sighted and even dangerous. He said banning discussion of sexual orientation could lead to further bullying of gay students.
"Gay students are the ones who are bullied most and if we passed this it would be illegal to even talk about the issue and that's dangerous," Wyatt said. "This is hiding it under the rug."
Wyatt is supporting another bill that would require public schools in Missouri to create anti-bullying programs.
He is in the second year of a two-year term. He was elected after serving seven years in the U.S. Air Force and said he was forgoing a bid for re-election because he plans to go to college at the University of Hawaii.
Wyatt is the only state-level Republican lawmaker in office in the United States to publicly acknowledge being gay, said Denis Dison, spokesman for the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund. There are about 90 openly gay Democratic lawmakers, he said.
While most U.S. Republicans opposed legislation on gay rights, a minority have split with the party and supported legalizing gay marriage in New York, Maryland, New Jersey and Washington state where the measure passed state legislatures. In some cases they provided the margin of victory.
(Editing by David Bailey, Greg McCune and Paul Simao)