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Rep. Zach Wyatt (R-Kirksville) opposes HB2051

From the April 27, 2012 "Words With Wyatt" column: 

The past two years have been the most influential years of my life. This year, I tried to take a step back to look at my life experiences. My interest in politics took flight in Junior High and has led me to the path I am on today, with the help of each experience I have had along the way. When I did pause to take a look back, I especially scrutinized my short political career. At this point, there are two actions I have taken that have left me with deep regrets.

After I announced my bid for office in 2010, I was asked to give my first interview. I was very excited to give my first interview on a real issue! That issue happened to be bullying in our school system. I looked up the Republican stance on this issue rather than actually thinking the issue over. I did not lead on this issue. I went against my own beliefs and was a follower, even though I was a victim of bullying in school. My other regret is taking a “No” vote on an amendment regarding the Missouri Non-Discrimination act last year. These were both mistakes that I made as a follower. Both of these instances have reminded me of the value of leadership.

Leadership is what our state greatly needs right now. The foundation of my party has always been individual equality and freedom. The very foundations of a free society are individual rights and the resulting responsibilities. I have come to realize that being involved in politics is like living in a glass house. Not only are many aspects of your life open to public scrutiny and discussion, but I have found myself having to inspect my own life in the same detailed manner. Some aspects of my life that I have even hidden from myself have become evident.

I do not wish to make the mistake of following, rather than leading again. As such, I am compelled to speak out against my colleagues who have sponsored and pushed House Bill 2051. This bill, which has garnered national attention, has been dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. I have become tired and frustrated with the bigotry on gay issues from both sides of the isle. Homosexuality is not a Republican or Democrat issue, and should not be portrayed as such. Students not only need, but have a right to feel safe with the go to school. They should be able to speak with teachers, counselors, or administrators when they get bullied. This bill would make that illegal.

Growing up in Northeast Missouri was an amazing childhood. When my cousins, my brother and I were young, we played in rivers and creeks, and had many opportunities that are not readily available in many other places. As wonderful as growing up this way was, my youth was marred by bullying. Throughout Junior High and High School I weighed anywhere from two hundred eighty to three hundred twenty pounds. I also have not always been perceived as the most masculine of men. I can remember coming home to my mother crying to her about being picked on at school. At least when I was faced with a bully, my older cousin was there to help me. Thank God I did grow up in Novinger. Thank God my family was there to support me.  I now see that if I had attended a bigger school, my life might have been very different.  I can say I probably would not be here today.

Even from when I was growing up, Missouri children have more going on in their lives. In the decade since I have been out of school, the influences of social media on the children of today have become evident, as has the presence of cyber-bullying. There has been talk about the increase in bullying in this day and age. I do not believe there has been an increase; I believe that the twenty-four hour internet news cycle is finally bringing attention to the issue.

I believe the only way we can truly address bullying in our school, while protecting our school districts from liability, is to address and assist the students most often targeted by bullies. Without such guidance, how do we protect gay kids in rural schools where many are afraid to even mention the word gay, let alone address this type of issue?

Today I ask you all to lead. I challenge you to stand up for individual freedom and rights. I intend to lead by example.


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