May day!

George W. Bush would like to discharge openly gay soldiers from the Army. So why is Lt. Steve May, the openly gay Arizona legislator, endorsing him?

By Deb Schwartz
October 26, 2000 10:22PM (UTC)
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Steve May is not the first clean-cut, patriotic young American to fall victim to the policy on gays in the military known as "Don't ask, don't tell." But he may be the most glaring example of the policy's absurdity.

On Sept. 17, a U.S. Army panel ruled that 1st Lt. May, an openly gay Republican member of the Arizona state Legislature, violated the directive when he acknowledged his sexual orientation during a February 1999 debate at the state Capitol. The government contends that Army reservist May was on active duty at the time of his remarks, and recommended an honorable discharge -- despite the fact that his legislative testimony was protected by both state and federal law.


A conservative Republican and former Eagle Scout, a Mormon by birth and a man uniformly praised by his military superiors as an exceptional officer, May is perhaps an unlikely gay-rights activist. He is certainly a stubborn one. May has vowed to appeal his likely discharge as far as possible up the military chain and, barring success there, to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In a recent interview with Salon, May discussed his battle against the military and how he reconciles the anti-gay policy with his support for George W. Bush, who says he will retain "Don't ask, don't tell" if elected president.

During the presidential primaries you supported Arizona Sen. John McCain. Now you support Gov. Bush. How can you support Bush, given his view on "Don't ask, don't tell?"


I support Governor Bush. I can't say that I'm enthusiastic about him yet. I don't think he has a good understanding of "Don't ask, don't tell" or a good understanding of gays in the military. Frankly, I think he's trying to avoid the issue as much as possible. And I think it's sad.

But there are a lot of reasons I support Bush over Gore that aren't related to gays or military policy. I think Bush will be better for the military as a whole.

But I'm extremely disappointed with Governor Bush's position on "Don't ask, don't tell." He hides behind Colin Powell's statement from eight years ago that it would hurt morale and cohesion, an opinion that was stated without evidence. There were generals in Colin Powell's position 50 years ago who said the exact same thing about blacks. This is a terrible part of his legacy. Twenty years from now, when gays are allowed to serve openly in the military and are treated the same as heterosexuals, this will be a terrible black mark on Colin Powell's legacy.


Of course, I don't think Gore understands the military either, or the problem of gays in the military. Gore said that he's going to end "Don't ask, don't tell." But the reality is he can't. Congress has to change the law, and anyone who believes that electing Gore is going to change it is foolish.

Gov. Bush exhibited some strange waffling when it came to meeting with members of the Log Cabin Republican Club.


And you'll note that I wasn't invited to that meeting -- and I'm on the [Log Cabin] board. I don't think he wants to touch me with a 10-foot pole. I've heard a lot of people in his campaign say that he thinks I'm too controversial. Sorry, what's controversial about serving your country?

Do you know Dick Cheney's daughter Mary?

I don't know her personally. I did send a letter to the Bush campaign trying to give him some advice about how to handle the issue, which clearly they don't follow. Lynne and Dick Cheney have done a terrible job of handling this issue.


Lynne Cheney essentially denied that her daughter, who worked for years as the Coors Co.'s liaison to the gay and lesbian community, and who is openly gay, is gay.

It's ridiculous. They need to acknowledge that she's gay, acknowledge that they love her, accept her and move on. There are so many Republican families with gay children who are struggling with acceptance. The Cheneys have an opportunity to set an example of family values in embracing their gay daugher. But as long as they continue to pretend that she isn't gay, they're setting a terrible example.

You've said that you don't want to be a poster boy for this and that you don't want to fight the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy.


I feel I'm not fighting the policy. I'm just telling my story. But in telling my story, which is so absurd, the policy is fighting itself.

I went into the service at the time "Don't ask, don't tell" was implemented, and I think like most people in the service at the time I thought that it was probably a reasonable compromise. It seemed to make sense on the face of it: Just be discreet and don't talk about it and you'll be fine. But that's not the way the policy has been applied.

So you're against the policy as it's being applied?

Oh, absolutely. First of all, it's immoral. It's Clintonian to the core. At the same time that we demand that our military service members be honest in every regard, we ask them to lie about their sexual orientation. I mean, the policy says you can be gay in the military as long as you lie about it. That's immoral.


What do you think our policy on gays in the military should be?

Our policy should be like the policy of all the other NATO nations. Service members should be evaluated on the basis of conduct. In October 1994, I was assigned to be a leader for an all-male platoon with the assignment of integrating women into that platoon. And as I was integrating women into the unit, we had a lot of sexual problems between men and women. Well, it doesn't mean that you ban heterosexuals from the military because they engage in this behavior that's unacceptable. It means you purge the individual soldiers who violated the rules of conduct.

Deb Schwartz

Deb Schwartz, former senior editor at OUT, is a writer in New York.

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Dick Cheney Don't Ask Don't Tell George W. Bush Lgbt Republican Party