AUGUSTA – Tuesday night, Rep. William Walcott, D-Lewiston, was nervous.

He was about to say, in a very public way, that he is gay. Before that, only his family and friends knew.

A reserved man of 33, he said talking about his personal life is not something he feels comfortable with. Too often too many people tell too much about themselves, he said.

But the March 23 public hearing on the gay rights bill had moved him. “There were so many people willing to come and tell their story,” he said Wednesday. “The turnout surprised me. The depth of their stories surprised me.”

He started thinking about telling his story, but didn’t make up his mind until he stood on the floor Tuesday night. Now in his third year in the Legislature, Walcott said it was the first time he tried to persuade fellow legislators to support any bill that would affect gays.

“That’s not why I came up here,” Walcott said. “Other than my speech, I lobbied no one on this bill. Being a legislator, I don’t want people in Lewiston to think that’s what I come here and do. It’s not the most important issue to me.”

If it were, he said, he would have sponsored or co-sponsored L.D. 1196. “I did none of that,” he said.

Since in office, his top issues have been supporting education funding for Lewiston-Auburn, advocating for affordable prescription drugs, supporting the Drugs to the Elderly program and defending Medicaid. Walcott, who is a support worker for the mentally disabled, had asked to be appointed to the Health and Human Services Committee to fight for those issues, he said.

Time to speak

On Tuesday night, Walcott let several others speak first. Just as he was about to rise and speak, Rep. Roger Sherman, R-Hodgdon, made a motion to send the bill back to the Judiciary Committee. Sherman said it needed more deliberation. “I had to sit back down and wait” until the House debated and then defeated Sherman’s motion, Walcott said.

Finally, he spoke. After talking about the fear he experienced as a gay man in college, in the work place and in the Legislature, fellow members stood and applauded. And they passed notes to Walcott that praised and congratulated him.

It wasn’t the reaction Walcott had expected.

“Legislators don’t usually stand up and applaud when someone speaks. I don’t think my story was anything so special that it warranted that.”

On Wednesday, Walcott said he’s glad he told his story.

He’s no longer afraid of anyone finding out, and he wanted to put a face on the issue.

“Some think it’s always someone they don’t know” who is gay. It might be tougher to oppose the bill “when you know someone,” he said. “It’s not just those people who came up here and testified. It’s people who sit here and work with you every day, lobbyists, constituents or other legislators.”

Praising his courage

The early reactions to his speech has been positive so far, Walcott said. In addition to his stack of notes, he’s received e-mails and phone calls all praising him for his courage.

Walcott became the third legislator recently to publicly say he is gay. There may be comfort knowing you’re not alone, Walcott said. “But there’s certainly not a gay caucus or anything. We don’t meet and talk about it.”

Walcott said he’s like most Mainers who don’t approve of what the “fringes” are doing. That includes Michael Health of the Christian Civic League targeting gay or “pro-homosexual” legislators. Or gay activists suing the Boy Scouts for not allowing gay members.

Heath lost credibility last year when he tried to compile a list of gay legislators, Walcott said. And while he says the Boy Scouts should not discriminate, “to sue the Boy Scouts is like suing apple pie. It’s not something I would have done.”

Recognizing that many voters in his district have socially conservative values, Walcott said he has some concern some of his constituents won’t approve of him telling the world he’s gay. But he’s confident voters will stick with him, or vote against him, over issues.

“I would vote for a Democrat who believes in the same issues I believe in, who was straight, before I’d vote for a gay Republican.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.