Steve May, Arizona, 1997
Steve May (R)
Born November 29, 1971
State Representative, District 26
Elected November 1997
Essay by Steve May for Out and Elected in the USA
Early on in my legislative career, a colleague of mine sponsored a bill to prohibit our counties and cities from offering domestic partner benefits. She rose to the podium and said that we had to prohibit this practice of extending health insurance to domestic partners of our employees because “homosexuality is a lower end of the behavioral spectrum.” And because all gay men suffer from “Gay Bowel Disease.” And that this would increase our insurance rates in the state of Arizona.
I was only in office for three weeks and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I went to the podium and said, “Many people expected me to sit in my office quietly, but I cannot sit in my office quietly when my family is under attack and when my freedom is being stolen by another legislator.” I said something else that day to the legislature that was really very shocking to the Republican members which controlled the House. That was that I am a gay man and I pay taxes, and if this legislature doesn’t want to treat me fairly and equally under the law, it shouldn’t take my gay money. This was a revolutionary concept!
The press made a big deal out of this debate. After all, here was a Republican vs. a Republican talking about a gay rights issue. The person I was speaking with or against, depending on how you view it, was a practicing Mormon. I’m a recovering Mormon. She referred to her fifth husband and I referred to my husband as well. The press had a field day. The day following the debate, the entire state knew there was an openly gay Republican in the State House.
In February of 1999, our nation was preparing for a major ground conflict in Kosovo. I’d served in active duty in Ft. Riley, Kansas for two years, three months and eight days, and finished in 1995. I never thought I’d go back to serve in uniform again. But I always knew that I was willing to serve and that I would go if called. Every time a crisis flared up somewhere in the world my mother would call and ask if they were calling me back in. I’d say, “That’s ridiculous. They don’t need someone like me. I’d only go back if it was a major, major conflict.” I said, “Mom, not only are they not going to call me back because they don’t need me, but now everybody knows I’m gay!” Well, two weeks later, the Army called me back into duty. So, there I was, openly gay, Republican, elected official, and my country was calling me back to service at a time when we thought we were going into a war. I had a choice to make. I could report for duty as ordered, or walk to my commander and say, “Hey sir, I can’t go to war, I’m gay.” So, I did what millions of Americans have done throughout the history of our country. I put on my uniform and went back to work. I served for about four months until my battalion commander decided she wanted to conduct an investigation into allegations of my homosexuality. I said, “Mamma, my private life has been public record for three years. This should be a very short investigation.” Six months later, serving all the while, the Army concluded in a 100 page report that found, indeed, I might be a homosexual.
That was in December of 1999 and I continued to serve my soldiers and my unit. My soldiers were very cooperative. They treated me just like they would any other officer, gay or straight. In March, I sent 18 kids off to Kosovo. When I came home from sending those kids out, I received a letter from the Army “inviting” me to resign. Not only did they invite me to resign, they wrote a letter of resignation for me. I wasn’t about to let the Army have the satisfaction of me just going away. The fact is, the Army called me back into service when they felt they needed me. I was willing to give my life for my country and now the Army was telling me that my life was no longer worthy to give. Not because of anything that I did, but because of who I am. Well, they should have known who I was before they asked me to me back. I refused to resign.
In September of 2000, shortly after my primary election, I was called to a hearing where they were trying to discharge me under “other than honorable conditions.” I put the uniform of my country on for the first time in August of 1989. Now, about eleven years later, my government was presenting a case against me saying I was disloyal because I was pursuing my own political agenda. They said that I was a liar. They said I had made up stories about combat service, which I never did. I was so hurt and angry and confused that my government would treat me this way. Fortunately I had able counsel who rebutted their arguments in a matter of minutes. Nothing held up. The Board decided that while they felt I had violated the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, that indeed my record of service had earned an honorable discharge. I was given the verdict, saluted smartly and left. But I wasn’t gong to give up. I just wanted to finish my term of service. We filed an appeal and in January 2001. The Secretary of the Army decided to allow me to finish my current term of service. Not an absolute victory, but there is something important about it. I certainly hope in the future other soldiers will be able to point to my case and say, for example, “I’ve got three months left before my 20 year retirement benefits and in the May case, you allowed him to finish. You should allow me to finish too.”