PHOENIX (AP) — A veteran Arizona lawmaker who was a vocal critic of a bill that touched off a national debate over discrimination came out as gay on Wednesday, saying "I wanted to let everyone know I am gay, I'm a Latino and I'm a state senator and it's OK."
State Sen. Steve Gallardo said he felt the need to come out publicly partly because of the recent battle against a bill approved by the Arizona Legislature that would have allowed businesses to refuse service to gays based on religious beliefs.
"In the middle of that discussion, it dawned on me that this bill affects me directly, and seeing all the people come to the Capitol protesting and rallying around this bill solidified my thought and that it's time for me to stand up and say, 'This is who I am,'" he said.
Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed the bill after strong opposition from the business community.
Gallardo, 45, said he also wants to send a message to members of the LGBT community who struggle with coming out as gay. He added that his family and friends have known about his sexuality for a long time.
The Phoenix Democrat is running for the open U.S. House seat being vacated by the retirement of Rep. Ed Pastor.
Gallardo served in the state House of Representatives from 2003 to 2009 and has been a state senator since 2011. He is one of three openly gay legislators in Arizona: Sen. Robert Meza, D-Phoenix, and Rep. Demion Clinco, D-Tucson. U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat, has said she is bisexual.
Pastor's announcement last month that he would not run for re-election is expected to set the stage for a contested Democratic primary in the 7th Congressional District. The heavily Hispanic District is located entirely in Phoenix and is solidly Democratic.