Steve May to speak at AEN

Paige Parvin, Southern Voice
December 9, 1999 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Blogger Tumblr

The man who may pose the biggest challenge to the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy on gays in the military since the controversial policy was enacted will tell his story to a gay group in Atlanta next week.

Steve May, Arizona state representative and U.S. Army Reserves officer, currently being investigated under DADT, is slated to speak at the Atlanta Executive Network meeting Dec. 16.

An openly gay and Republican legislator, May spoke out for gay rights on the Arizona state house floor back in February, when he was an honorably discharged civilian. Later he was recalled to active duty, and the Army began an investigation based on those public statements.

Since then, May has become a familiar figure in the media, with appearances on "Larry King Live," "News Hour with Jim Lehrer," "Hardball with Chris Matthews," and this Sunday, "60 Minutes."

He has also become the great hope of DADT opponents across the political spectrum. A conservative Republican, first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve, national board member of Log Cabin Republicans, educated, successful, clean-cut, Mormon, 28 years old last week, and openly gay, May was compared to Rosa Parks in a September New York Times editorial, which called him a "transitional figure" because Americans can identify with him.

'Not about gay rights'

May himself has said that his fight "is not about gay rights," but about a discriminatory policy that threatens the nation's military readiness.

"The [DADT] policy forces mandatory discrimination against gays in the military because of people who want to use it to force their social agenda on the nation," he said. "America needs qualified man and women to protect the nation, and the reality is, gay or not doesn't matter."

The military is facing a severe personnel shortage, partly due to discharges under DADT, May pointed out. "America cannot afford to discriminate against gays and lesbians in the military," he said.

May said shifting the focus of his case away from gay rights and toward military prowess is more likely to win favor among military superiors and conservative Americans.

Earlier this week, May received a copy of the Army investigative report, he said. It recounted the high marks he'd received from his superiors, fellow officers and soldiers in his command. May claimed his soldiers have been supportive during the investigation and "think the whole thing is dumb."

"The whole thing just gets more and more absurd," he said, clearly frustrated. "Overall, everything in the investigation says that I am an outstanding officer, but I've violated a policy."

May said the next step in the investigation requires him to undergo a complete medical and psychiatric evaluation.

"The medical I'm not worried about, but as far as psychiatric, I wasn't sure if a gay Republican would pass," he joked. "If I'm determined to be mentally responsible for my actions, I guess I won't be able to use that 'queer by reason of insanity' defense."

The defense May's lawyers will use is based on his First Amendment right to free political speech, he said, and will likely highlight the fact that he was not actively serving at the time he acknowledged his sexual orientation during a legislative debate.

The problem with this defense, he acknowledged, is that a victory would have narrow implications, not necessarily striking a hard blow to the DADT policy. But May said his attorneys are looking for a win on any grounds, because one more loss would mean another setback in the challenge to DADT.

"We think we have an innovative argument, which will chip away at the policy," he said. "If I win, I will continue to serve in uniform. If I am discharged, it will just set another bad precedent.

"The other point is to educate the American public about this immoral, wasteful policy," May went on. "I'm not sure the gay community can win this battle in the courts, but I believe we will win in the court of public opinion."

May claims solid gay rights record, endorses McCain for president

As a legislator, May said his agenda is built on issues other than gay rights, but he has been vocal on anti-gay measures when he deemed necessary.

"I will not apologize for who I am, and I will not allow laws to be passed which discriminate against me, my family, and my constituents," he said.

Asked his opinion on GOP presidential hopefuls John McCain, a fellow Arizonian, and George W. Bush, May said he has endorsed McCain.

"We in the gay and lesbian community have a lot to educate him on, but he is open, which I don't think George W. is," May said.

May harshly criticized Bush's refusal to meet with Log Cabin Republicans on the grounds that he is "a unifier, not a divider."

"What makes him a unifier when he will meet with right-wing extremist groups, but not other groups?" May asked. "His reason was nonsensical, and gives us some insight into what he is as a person. ...The man's thought process is weak at best. I'm not sure he's got the intellect it takes to serve in the Oval Office."

May's appearance at AEN next Thursday will be followed by a dessert and coffee gathering and fund-raiser for May's re-election in 2000, to be held at the home of Harry Harkins and Ken Stilwell in Ansley Park. The event is hosted by the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund and both Democrat and Republican supporters.