When newly out Arizona state senator Steve Gallardo went into a closed-door meeting with members of his Democratic caucus Tuesday, he didn't expect a colleague to launch a bizarre, ill-fated attempt to remove the 12-year Senate veteran from his post as minority whip.
But that's exactly what happened, according to a Tuesday report from the Arizona Capitol Times. In a private meeting fellow democratic lawmakers, Gallardo says Sen. Olivia Cajero Bedford questioned his integrity -- implying that the senator's recent decision to publicly discuss his sexual orientation for the first time in the wake of Arizona's nearly passed "license to discriminate" bill was proof that he'd been lying about who he was.
"She said that I should be more gay and she questioned my integrity," Gallardo told the Capitol Times Tuesday. "She said she was glad I came out [of the closet], but that I should be more gay. I'm more offended that she questioned my integrity."
The Capitol Times spoke with Cajero Bedford, who dismissed her instructions to "act more gay" as an attempt at humor. Her questioning Gallardo's integrity was about his intention to maintain his role as minority whip while also running for a soon-to-be-vacated seat to represent Arizona's Seventh Congressional District in Washington, D.C.
But she did admit that she perceived Gallardo's recent coming-out as a matter of honesty. "Why was he hiding it?" she asked. "It wouldn't have made any difference."
In an exclusive statement to The Advocate, Gallardo rejected the claim that he was being dishonest by not coming out sooner. Notably, Gallardo has said in other venues that he did not come out to his family members until he was in his mid-20s.
"I have never lied about being gay," Gallardo tells The Advocate. "Everyone close to me, family, friends even the press, knew my sexual orientation. It was never an issue before SB 1062. Those who would deny basic constitutional and human rights to individuals based on sexual orientation are the ones who made this an issue."
Gallardo also dismissed the implication that his coming-out was timed with his congressional campaign, affirming that he was motivated to go public about his orientation in response to Arizona's Senate Bill 1062, which would have allowed businesses and individuals to refuse service to anyone based on the business owner or individual's sincerely held religious beliefs. After nationwide outcry -- and a threat from the NFL that it would relocate the 2014 Super Bowl out of Arizona if the law passed -- Republican governor Jan Brewer vetoed the bill, declaring it "pointless."
"The controversy over SB1062 helped me realize it was time to let people know about me because it was the right thing to do," Gallardo said. "As my record in the legislature shows, I have been a champion of all human rights issues. I am proud to say I am the voice in the legislature pushing for LGBTQ rights.
"It is time that people focus on my record of speaking for those who have no voice, and making government more responsive to the needs of Arizona's hardworking families rather than my sexual orientation. I am a proud American who also happens to be gay."
Gallardo is running for the congressional seat being vacated by Democrat Ed Pastor, who announced his retirement last month. If elected, Gallardo would be the first openly LGBT Latino person to serve in the U.S. Congress.