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Missouri State Representative
Zachary Wyatt
Gay Veteran

by

Denny Meyer

Missouri State Representative Zachary Wyatt is a very self confident young Air Force veteran and elected official who, at age 27, has accomplished more than many could imagine achieving in a lifetime; and its very clear that he's just getting started.  His plans include getting advanced degrees in marine biology and environmental law and going forward with, perhaps, a career in advocating renewable energy governmental policies and promoting gay rights within the Republican Party. Oh, to be 27 again!

He graduated from high school in 2003, served seven years in the Air Force as a Cryptologic Linguist specializing in Russian and Chechen, and then ran for office and won against a two term incumbent.  And recently, as a State Representative in the mostly rural state of  Missouri, he advocated an anti-bullying law in the legislature; and the next day came out publicly as gay while opposing a proposed "Don't Say Gay" law.  And he's just getting started!

By his own account, he only recently realized he was gay.  He'd been focused on his studies and work and goals, he says, and he does not let himself get distracted very easily.  Add to that that he grew up in a town of just 550 people, with a high school graduating class of 20, where internet connections are still slow to this day.  You can hear the corn grow in a place like that, and you either leave as soon as you can or love the Heartland.  Zachary Wyatt has a genuine love for home, for rural Missouri; and even after traveling the world for seven years in the Air Force, he came right back home and with homespun passion promptly got elected to represent his home district.

Volunteering to serve was natural for the grandson of a Korean War Navy veteran, whose father and uncles served in the National Guard, and whose older brother served in the Navy for nine years.  I frankly forgot to ask him what made him choose the Air Force, with that background, but perhaps he had heard about the food and accommodations.

Representative Wyatt was in 11th grade in high school on 9/11 when our nation was attacked.  He didn't waste a moment, upon graduation, to volunteer to do his part for our country.  Two weeks after receiving his diploma, he was at Lackland AFB beginning his basic training.  Ever ambitious, even then, he already had plans for using the educational benefits he would earn.  Although he was slated to be an ordinary Avionics Specialist, a test revealed his aptitude for linguistics, resulting in his studying Russian and his subsequent extension of his enlistment to study a second Slavic language.

He rose rapidly to Staff Sergeant (E5 in the AF) and traveled to some 35 countries in the course of his duties, including England and Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.  In the rarified atmosphere of highly intelligent Cryptologic Linguists, there was a sort of small-unit sense of family among the Airmen.  Within those units, people knew what there was to know about each other, yet no one asked, no one told, and no one cared, according to Wyatt.  What mattered was the ability to do the job, he said; as it should be and as it is now.  Despite the DLI DADT discharge scandals and witch hunts of the era during which he served, he and his peers experienced none of that, he said.  There was no fear, that he knew of, within the units in which he served.  And although he had inklings about himself, as many rural young people begin to do when they leave home and see the world while serving, it simply didn't connect with who he was at that time; and so he never felt threatened by what was happening to gay people elsewhere within the military.  How fortunate for him and our nation, when so many other of our best and urgently needed linguists were lost to a senseless policy of bigotry.

Zachary Wyatt seems to be the sort of young person who devotes himself intently to carefully selected growth building experiences and then, after making his mark of excellence, moves on to the next challenge.  That cleverly avoids getting stalled in careers that can grow stale over time.  Months before political circumstance motivated him to decide to come out to his constituents and colleagues, he had already decided to leave the legislature after one term in order to continue his education.  The somewhat unanticipated 15 minutes of national fame, resulting from his coming out, certainly made his mark of excellence and courage as a citizen-representative.  The potential fallout from coming out is a mute issue because he's not running for reelection.  In fact, he notes, many of his political colleagues made a point of letting him know that they have changed their positions on the two legislative bills specifically because they know and respect him.  Accomplishing that is a major lifetime achievement based upon the strength of his character.  And he's just getting started!

Like any self respecting gay American, Representative Wyatt supports same sex marriage rights and he celebrates President Obama's recent personal policy statement and his having enacted the repeal of DADT.  So, the fact that he is very much a red blooded Republican leaves many gay folk rather incredulous, including me.  Hang on, before you have a heart attack.  Let us not forget the fact that Leonard Matlovich, another gay Air Force Staff Sgt., was a Republican; one of our greatest gay military heroes, who in 1974 sacrificed his 17 year military career for the sake of our future rights.  (Lenny, who was a friend of mine, ran as a Republican in 1979 to fill a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors that Harvey Milk held when was assassinated.  He lost; he got 410 votes, including mine, which was the exact number of friends he had there at the time).

Many, on both the left and the right, might be relieved that Rep. Wyatt is not running for reelection.  It avoids awkward political considerations that could arise.  However, he did say that he intends to promote gay rights within the Republican Party.  That may seem to be a hopeless endeavor, but Zachary Wyatt hasn't failed at anything he's ever done.  And he's just getting started.

  2012 Gay Military Signal