State Rep. Eddie Mannis said he's hoping to "change the conversation" within the Republican Party

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Eddie Mannis
Tennessee state Rep. Eddie Mannis
| Credit: Robert Mannis Photography

Tennessee's first openly gay Republican state lawmaker is opening up for the first time about his historic election in November.

Rep. Eddie Mannis told local TV station WBIR on Tuesday, in an interview following the end of his first legislative session, that his sexual identity is only "part of who I am."

Mannis, 62, came out through an interview with local Compass Knox news in January 2019 and received support from fellow politicians. Last November, the Knoxville native and local businessman was elected to represent the state's 18th district.

"Really what I am going there for is to try and change the conversation," he told WBIR this week.

"It is part of who I am and I'm not going to hide from that, but I hope that people can see there are many other parts of who I am," he added.

Mannis, who has run a local tuxedo cleaning company since the mid-1980s, has already butted heads with his local Republican Party. His 2020 nomination was opposed by several GOP lawmakers who accused him of flip-flopping because he voted in the Democratic presidential primary.

Mannis, who describes himself as "fiscally conservative," told Knox News at the time this was because he wanted to vote against progressive candidates like Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

However, he also drew the ire of some Republicans for voting against Donald Trump in the 2016 election, saying he voted for John Kasich, another conservative, instead.

"Gay is not exclusive to being a Democrat," Mannis told local WTVC after he was elected to the statehouse. "I think we need representation in both parties to make progress."

Mannis, who grew up in a devoutly religious and conservative Knoxville family, said in his interview Tuesday that he already believes his presence in the state GOP has made an impact.

He opposed a Republican-led bill, signed into law last month, which restricts transgender students from playing on sports teams that align with their gender identity.

"I know what it feels like to be bullied because you're different," he told WBIR, speaking about the law. "I know what it feels like to contemplate suicide."

Mannis said that when he was growing up, being gay "was something that you just didn't talk about."

After he came out in the 2019 Compass Knox article, Mannis told Knox Today that longtime friends began calling to congratulate him.

He said one friend in particular summed up how he felt he fit into local politics: "He was laughing and said, 'Who would have thought that in Knoxville in 2019, being gay is more respectable than being Republican?' " Mannis told the outlet.

Speaking this week, he maintained that everyone was "diverse in our own right and I think that that diversity needs to be respected." He also made it clear he won't make legislative decisions strictly to satisfy either the LGBTQ community or other Republicans.

"Am I always going to make decisions that are going to make the entire LGBTQ community happy? Probably not," he said. "I mean, I'm not going to make decisions that make the Republican Party happy."