Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Openly Gay Legislator Says He Has No Unique Agenda

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Openly Gay Legislator Says He Has No Unique Agenda

Article excerpt

PERHAPS SOME years ago, the arrival of Missouri's first openly gay legislator at the Statehouse would have triggered headlines and harsh words.

But it happened with little notice this year as freshman Democrat Tim Van Zandt raised his right hand and, along with 162 others on the House floor, took the oath of office.

In the opening weeks of the legislative session, Van Zandt, who represents the Westport and Country Club Plaza areas of Kansas City, has been doing what most first-termers do - listening, learning and keeping a low profile.

"I'm a much more complicated person than just being a gay person. Issues in Missouri affect me like anyone else," Van Zandt said.

"I think the members accept him as he is," said Rep. Gene Copeland, D-New Madrid, the senior member of the Legislature, with more than three decades of service.

Van Zandt, 31, ran last year as the Democratic replacement for Karen McCarthy, who was elected to Congress. He talked about his homosexuality when asked but didn't make it an issue in his campaign.

"He didn't hide the fact that he was gay, but he didn't run on any gay platform," said Jon Barnett, associate editor of the Lesbian and Gay News-Telegraph in Kansas City. "He wasn't just elected by the gay community."

Labor unions and pro-choice groups also supported Van Zandt in the overwhelmingly Democratic district. He defeated two primary opponents, with 80 percent of the vote; then he got 78 percent of the general election vote against his sole challenger, a Libertarian.

"People in Kansas City know about it, and they don't consider it a big deal. They elected me by an overwhelming majority," Van Zandt said.

Van Zandt calls himself a legislator who is gay - not a gay legislator.

And homosexual-rights groups aren't counting on him to file every bill they want, although they do feel comfortable having Van Zandt's backing. "It would put an unfair burden on him if we expected him to carry the water for the entire gay and lesbian community in the state," said Leah Edelman, director of St. Louis-based Privacy Rights Education Project, which lobbies for gay-rights proposals. …

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