By Jesse Monteagudo
Steve May is 27 years old, a first lieutenant in the Army Reserves, and a Republican member of Arizona's House of Representatives. A former Eagle Scout and a Mormon, May is handsome (as some dizzy queens mentioned on-line), intelligent, hard-working, sober, religious, patriotic and in a committed relationship.
In short, May is the epitome of "the best little boy in the world" twenty-five years after Andrew Tobias coined the phrase to describe himself. May also faces the possibility of being discharged from the Army Reserves, for being who he is and for being open about it.
If May was straight, he would have established a political base in the Arizona House of Representatives, gone on to the governorship or Congress, and eventually taken a shot at the Presidency. He'd certainly be a more attractive prospect, character-wise, than Bill Clinton or George W. Bush.
But May is gay; and being in gay is a "stigma" that, unlike past sexual indiscretions or drug use, can not be easily "washed away". Other politicians dealt with their sexual orientation by hiding it, getting married and having children. But May is a man of integrity; and when rumors emerged about him he frankly admitted his sexual orientation.
This did not keep the voters of May's conservative Republican district from electing (1998) this young conservative Republican to the Arizona Legislature. Those who claim that May "kept" his sexuality a secret in order to get elected are wrong, for May was openly gay throughout his campaign.
Indeed, May is an active board member of the Log Cabin Republicans, and was on his way to attend that group's convention in New York City when he unexpectedly made headlines across the country.
Rep. May did not make waves until early this year, when Rep. Karen S. Johnson, a fellow Republican, introduced a bill that would have barred the use of public funds to pay for domestic partner benefits. As if that wasn't bad enough, Rep. Johnson peppered her remarks with horror stories about gay men, who she described as disease-stricken perverts doomed to early graves.
May vigorously opposed Johnson's bill and her rhetoric, not from a "compassionate" point of view but as a gay man who certainly did not fit Johnson's stereotype. Though May's colleagues were amazed by his candor, May himself saw it as just the right thing to do.
"The voters want you to be honest," May told a reporter. "I'd rather just say, 'It's none of your business.' But you can't get away with that anymore."
Though Johnson's bill ultimately failed, May's honesty and courage might be used against him. For one thing, May's openness is sure to come back to haunt him next year, when he runs for re-election. For another thing, May's honesty might jeopardize his career in the Army Reserves.
According to May, some of his political enemies alerted the Army about May's unwonted outspokenness. Duly alerted, the Army began an investigation, under the military policy of "don't ask, don't tell", to determine whether May's remarks are sufficient grounds for discharge.
Steve May's military record is more impressive than that of many conservative politicians who dare to sit in judgment of him. He joined the Army ROTC in college and then served as a lieutenant on active duty (1993-95).
"I'm a soldier. I'm a legislator. I have chosen to live my life with integrity. Because of the legislature, I'm visible. Because of my integrity, I have created a conflict," May noted. "That doesn't make me a gay activist. That makes me an honest soldier and a good legislator."
May's case, he argued, "isn't about gay rights . . . It's about the security of the nation. The issue for me as a policy maker is I want to make sure the nation is aware of the dangers this ["don't' ask, don't tell"] policy creates for our military preparedness".
But May's case is "about gay rights". More precisely, it proves once again how utterly ridiculous "don't ask, don't tell" is, especially at a time when the military faces a severe shortage in personnel. Nor is the recent revision of the guidelines to provide anti-harassment training going to make things any better, May noted.
"First we're going to indoctrinate our soldiers to believe that homosexuals are inferior and a threat because of this policy, and then we're going to indoctrinate them into believing gays shouldn't be harassed . . . It doesn't make any sense." But then bigotry is not supposed to be logical.
The case of Steve May shows how difficult it is for any gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person, no matter how "respectable" they might be, to be accepted in a largely homophobic society.
"Lieutenant May has a flawless record of military service, and yet he is being targeted for investigation just because he has the character to be honest about what he is," said C. Dixon Osburn, of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.
"The voters elected Steve May because he embodies the very same leadership qualities of honesty and integrity for which the military may now discharge him," said Brian K. Bond, of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund.
Still, for all of his "flawless record", and "his leadership qualities of honesty and integrity", many still view May as just another queer. This is a fact of life that many of us, who think ourselves to be "just like anyone else," should ponder.
"I've always been Republican . . . I believe in the core Republican principles. I also happen to be gay. But the party has been hijacked by theocratic fascists." Unfortunately for Steve May, these "theocratic fascists" are very powerful within the GOP, even in Arizona. Even U.S. Senator John McCain, who May supports for President, favors "don't ask, don't tell."
Still, asThe New York Times put it, "[t]he case of Steve May . . . shows how irrational the ["don't' ask, don't tell'] policy is." May should take comfort from the knowledge that his dilemma, however personally painful it might be, has brought the issue of gays in the military back to the center of America's consciousness, where it should stay until it is taken care of once and for all.