Arizona Senator Steve Gallardo says he is gay

PHOENIX - A veteran Arizona legislator who is running for the open U.S. House seat being vacated by the retirement of Rep. Ed Pastor told reporters Wednesday that he is gay.

State Sen. Steve Gallardo said he felt the need to come put 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 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.

"It's a good feeling to be able to say this is who I am, this is a part of my life I never talk about but I want to talk about it, and it's the right thing to do," he said.

Gallardo served in the state House of Representatives from 2003 to 2009 and has been a state senator since 2011. The Phoenix Democrat 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 leans Democratic.

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