Former ultraconservative representative Robert E. Bauman, saying he could "no longer remain silent in good conscience," today publicly declared that "Yes, I am gay," and said he will join the movement for homosexual rights in America.

"I have my own life to live and it's a far better life than I've ever lived before," Bauman, a former Republican congressman from Maryland's Eastern Shore and former state senator, said here today after participating in a panel on gay rights at the American Bar Association convention. "I would not have lived much longer," he said, "if I had not come out."

Bauman's statement came two years after his arrest in Washington for soliciting sex from a teen-age boy. Charges against Bauman were dropped after his participation in an alcohol rehabilitation program, but they ultimately ended his career as a quick-witted and sharp-tongued conservative congressman, a "parliamentary wizard" who had been a thorn in the side of Democratic legislative leaders from Annapolis to Capitol Hill.

Today, for the first time since his arrest, Bauman seemed restored to his own form, smiling, wisecracking and baiting reporters who turned out in force to hear his presentation. The one-time co-founder of Young Americans for Freedom and the American Conservative Union appeared on the platform in alliance with a well-known liberal lawyer, Dan J. Bradley, who has also recently "come out of the closet."

All were here to lobby the American Bar Association for support of a bill in Congress to prohibit discrimination against homosexuals. The effort failed yesterday when the association defeated that resolution by a vote of 158 to 134.

Bauman, 46, said that in the years since his arrest, he has been divorced from his wife, spurned by employers and become fully aware of the need for gay rights legislation. He said he had "achieved a belated if still imperfect awareness of the fearful capacity of ignorant and prejudiced persons to inflict economic, social, emotional, and yes, even physical harm on those hapless ones who become the unlucky objects of their irrational hatred."

Referring to his own experiences, Bauman said in his speech that "your average attorney with a degree in economics and international relations, a doctorate in law, three years in the senate of one of the states, and nearly eight years in Congress would ordinarily have few problems in finding employment . . . , especially when the man he supported in three presidential elections finally wins the White House.

"Wouldn't you think" that such a man "must have some utility in a federal agency, an ambassadorial post or a Washington law firm . . . ?" he asked. "The answer is 'no' if you are gay, or thought to be gay, or if there is even a hint that you might be gay." He said he was told by one high government official that " 'I desperately need your talent in this agency, but I do not have the courage to appoint you to any post.' "

Bauman, father of four children, said his acceptance of his being gay has come gradually over the past two years. He said the "final straw" was when he received a notice from the Roman Catholic Church that his marriage was being annulled on the grounds that he was homosexual.

Bauman, who is practicing law in Easton, Md., acknowledged that during his political career he has twice voted against the interests of homosexuals on specific pieces of legislation. But he said that contrary to popular belief, he had never given speeches or been outspoken on the issue of homosexuality: "I have never been a 'fag-basher' or 'gay-baiter.' "

Bauman said he has "matured" in his views about the need for federal laws protecting minorities. "But I am still a political conservative," he said.