Don't ask, he'll tell

An openly gay Mormon Republican flouts the Clinton administration's gays-in-the-military policy.

By Amy Silverman
Published August 30, 1999 9:00AM (EDT)

The investigation by the U.S. Army Reserve into Lt. Steve May's alleged homosexuality is the biggest waste of taxpayer dollars since the $640 toilet seat, since May has been openly gay for the last three years. But May's challenge to the Army's prohibition against openly gay soldiers could be the biggest threat to the Clinton administration's "don't ask, don't tell" policy since it was implemented in 1993.

May admits he has probably violated the "don't tell" part of the policy, which resulted in the discharge of more than 1,000 gay men and women from the armed forces last year, because he has certainly told -- and told and told and told. But May came out as openly gay not as an Army reserve officer, but as a Republican candidate for the Arizona Legislature, where he took office last January.

His openness has led to an Army Reserve investigation -- and a new status as national media star. The Service Members Legal Defense Fund has taken his case, and his plight has been featured in media coast to coast. "I just did a press conference with CNN, all the networks, probably 20 reporters," he told me from New York, where he was attending a weekend meeting of the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay GOP group. He'd been on MSNBC and "Good Morning America" already, but had to turn down other offers because he'd promised Larry King an exclusive on Monday night.

May's being gay is not news. The Arizona Mormon, who is 27, ran for the Legislature in 1996. He was outed by the local Log Cabin Republicans during the campaign. He lost the race but ran again in 1998, and won, this time as an openly gay candidate.

Earlier, while in college, he had served in the Navy and Army ROTC. In 1993, after graduation, he was called to active duty in the Army -- about the same time that "don't ask, don't tell" was implemented. He kept his mouth shut about his homosexuality, which up till then he'd mentioned only to a few family members and close friends. May's service ended in 1995, though he remained eligible to be called up in a military crisis.

A year later, he was outed during his campaign for the Legislature. And since his election, he has talked openly about his homosexuality. As a freshman lawmaker in Arizona's conservative Legislature -- and its first openly gay Republican -- he caused a small uproar when he put a Tinky Winky doll on his desk on the House floor. A member of the GOP leadership staff gently suggested it wasn't such a good idea to decorate that way, so May removed the doll. (Actually, it was removed for him by some snarky Democrats, who doll-napped Tinky and returned him days later, with a cigarette in his mouth. May didn't bother to put the doll back on his desk.)

Sort of "don't ask, don't tell," civilian-style.

Earlier this year he took a leading role fighting social conservatives who were trying to outlaw health benefits to same-sex partners, with arguments comparing homosexuality to cannibalism, and declaring that the life expectancy of a gay man is 42. May called their efforts "an attack on my family, an attack on my freedom. This Legislature takes my gay tax dollars and my gay tax dollars spend the same as your straight tax dollars."

Shortly after that impassioned speech, May got a letter in the mail. The crisis in the Balkans was escalating, and Uncle Sam wanted him back.

The same week in April that I published a profile of him in the Phoenix New Times, May reported for his first weekend of duty as a reservist. He saw soldiers passing the article around, but didn't hear from Army brass until July, when he was told the article had been sent to his commander with a complaint. (An Army Reserve investigator confirms this.) A formal investigation was launched in August.

May readily admits he's likely violated the basic tenets of "don't ask, don't tell." That's not the issue, he says.

"I don't know that there's a legal case at all," says May. "I'm just saying the policy's wrong. I should be allowed to live my life openly, honestly and with integrity ... Integrity has consequences ... I'm willing to suffer the consequences of living my life with integrity."

May says his soldiers treat him with respect, and he's been getting encouraging e-mail from men he served with in the early 1990s when he was still in the closet. He's been told, he says, to pretend the investigation isn't happening and to continue to lead his troops. He is up for a promotion to captain this fall.

"This could take forever, because they only take action one weekend a month, because everyone who's involved is a reservist," he says.

Talking to the press probably constitutes a violation of the "don't ask, don't tell policy," says May.

"But that's not the point," he says. "My point is that the policy is wrong."

Amy Silverman

Amy Silverman is a staff writer for Phoenix New Times.

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