Summarized by Kent Larsen
Steve May becomes Public Face to 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell'
PHOENIX, ARIZONA -- As his expulsion from the US Army Reserves approaches,
Lt. Steve May has become the 'poster child' for the problems with the
Clinton administration's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. May, who grew up in
an Arizona Mormon family, had an unblemished career in the Army and stellar
reviews from his superiors before his homosexuality became public in a
debate in the Arizona House, where May has served since his election in 1998.
May joined the military while attending Claremont McKenna College, and after
a brief stint in the Navy ROTC, he joined the Army. He also spent a semester
in Nigeria and a year in Germany as a student, and was president of his
class. In college he also dated women, "I think a big part of that was to
convince myself that I wasn't gay," May says.
He then spent 27 months in the Army's First Infantry Division at Fort Riley,
Kansas, earning evaluations in which he was called "the finest lieutenant on
the battalion staff" and "I have not seen a more intelligent and perceptive
officer." Another evaluation said, "Completely self-reliant, he strives for
perfection . . . a dynamic and personable leader with unlimited potential."
May mustered out in August 1995, in part to escape the dual life he felt
like he was leading in the Army.
Returning to Arizona, May got involved in his family's business, Wisdom
Herbs, and ran for the Arizona state senate as a Republican. During the
unsuccessful campaign, an operative made his homosexuality public. Two years
later he ran for the Arizona House and won in a conservative Republican
district, taking his seat in January 1999. But just weeks later a measure
that would reverse Tucson's extension of health benefits to same-sex
partners came up in the house, and May spoke against the bill.
His comments came in response to the comments of Rep. Karen Johnson, a
Mormon, who classified gay men "at the lower end of the behavioral
spectrum." Her comments made May angry "I had hoped not to testify today,
but when you attack my family and you steal my freedoms, I will not sit
quietly in my office. This legislature takes my gay tax dollars, and my gay
tax dollars spend the same as your straight tax dollars. If you're not going
to treat me fairly, stop taking my tax dollars."
May's comments made headlines, but the bill passed anyway. But the headlines
lead to an Army Reserve investigation, and under the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"
policy, May is now headed for discharge. But he is fighting the discharge,
and has made the fight a very public one. Originally, May was scheduled to
leave the service in May 2001, and he has appealed the discharge and
threatened legal action. "I want out, but I want out under proper terms."
As part of his fight, May has appeared on CNN's "Larry King Live," debating
former Marine colonel Oliver North over the policy, prompting a nasty
exchange in which North said he would strangle May before he would "succumb
to some strange laws of biology."
May is also struggling with the political fallout from the attention to his
lifestyle. After the story broke, May knocked on 5,000 doors in his district
to let his constituents "put a face to the name." He tried to put his
constituents past the issue, telling them, "Sure I'm gay, but let's talk
about education." and "Sure I'm gay, but lets talk about health care."
Fortunately, he is past the personal fallout from coming out of the closet.
His Mormon parents have calmed down, although his father originally urged
therapy and told him he couldn't come home if he brought a disease. He now
runs the family business, which has grown tenfold. He says he thinks they
are even somewhat impressed with how he has handled the publicity, "They
wish it were on a different topic, but I wish it were on a different topic,
'Unlimited Potential,' but Not in This Army
Washington Post 16Oct00 P2
By Peter Slevin: Washington Post Staff Writer