Army moves to discharge Rep. May

Says he violated 'don't ask' rule

Chris Moeser, The Arizona Republic
December 12, 1999 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Blogger Tumblr

The Army is moving forward with plans to discharge openly gay state Rep. Steve May, an Army reservist, under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, despite glowing performance evaluations.

Officials had rated the east Phoenix Republican legislator as "one of the finest young officers" in the Army and had urged quick promotions, according to a report obtained by The Arizona Republic.

May's case has become a lightning rod nationally for opponents of the Army policy since The Republic reported in August that he was under investigation for violating it.

This comes at a time when the policy is under increasing scrutiny after the beating death of a gay soldier at an Army base in Kentucky. Earlier this week, Hillary Clinton called "don't ask, don't tell" a failed policy.

And one of President Clinton's staunchest allies in Congress, Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., blasted Clinton's handling of May's case in a letter to the president last week.

Frank also called on Arizona Sen. John McCain, whom May is supporting in the presidential race, to be supportive of May. McCain is courting gay Republican voters and expects to raise $50,000 at fund-raiser held Tuesday night by the Log Cabin Republicans.

May, 28, a lieutenant in the Reserves, who is scheduled to be interviewed tonight on 60 Minutes (Channel 5, 6 p.m.), argues that his case proves the policy has been a disaster that forces highly qualified people out of the military.

"If you look at my evaluations, they say, 'Yep, he's a great officer, but we're going to kick you out anyway.' It's absurd," May said. "This is stupid. This makes no sense. There is no justification to prevent qualified gay and lesbian Americans from serving their country in uniform."

The Army investigation, which May provided to The Republic, was launched this spring after a soldier in May's Phoenix reserve unit noticed news stories in which May said that he is gay. The Army notified May of the report's findings when he reported for exercises Dec. 3.

May made the comments Feb. 3 in a legislative hearing in response to an anti-gay bill. Two days later, he was recalled to active duty.

The Army concluded May violated the policy by discussing his sexual orientation.

"Based on evidence from multimedia sources, coupled with your open admissions, I have determined that you have made statements that you are a homosexual," investigator Patricia Maddox wrote.

May and his attorneys have argued that he made the comments in his role as a state legislator and not while he was on active duty. To prevent him from exercising his rights as a legislator amounts to a violation of his rights.

"Even for people who like the policy, it seems to me this is a clear violation of a basic principle of legislative independence and the notion that the federal government would in effect be censoring what a state legislator says in the course of legislative business. It's outrageous," Frank said.

May's attorneys also plan to argue in their response to the charges that an obscure Defense Department directive allows a commanding officer to disregard the "don't ask, don't tell" policy if discharging the person would not be in the best interests of the armed forces.

"The chain of command keeps hiding behind the regulations and saying they have no choice," said Dixon Osburn, co-executive director of the Service Members Legal Defense Network, a Washington, D.C.-based group that has defended more than 2,000 service people facing discharge over the policy. "Losing Representative May would be detrimental."

May's evaluations confirm that view. His commanding officer, Maj. Eileen Norton, concluded in her final report that although May had openly acknowledged his sexual orientation, he is an excellent officer.

"It is my recommendation that each commander in Lt. May's chain of command . . . take into consideration Lt. May's outstanding military performance . . . and his unlimited potential to be an outstanding asset as a future officer and leader in the Army Reserves," she wrote.

Other soldiers in May's outfit agreed.

"I do not believe that this knowledge has in any way been detrimental to the morale of my troops or the morale of the troops directly under Lt. May's command," Lt. Jeffrey Clark wrote.

May's attorney, Christopher Wolf, has written to Norton and asked her to terminate the investigation.

Norton did not return a call seeking comment.

But the architect of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, Northwestern University sociology Professor Charles Moskos, said May doesn't have a case.

"By telling, he should be discharged. . . . A state representative, of all people, should not be above the law," Moskos said.

He suggested the policy shortly after the Clinton administration became engulfed in controversy surrounding the issue of gays in the military in 1993.

Moskos argues it would violate the rights of heterosexual service men and women to be housed in "intimate" conditions with gay members.

"I'm sure the Army will survive without Steve May," he said.

May calls the argument ridiculous.

"The idea that homosexuals should be prohibited from military service because of the fears of a few homophobes is unfounded," he said. "We don't forbid Blacks from serving even though there are racists in the Army."

Opponents also point out that with 1,149 gay and lesbian service personnel being discharged under the policy in 1998, military readiness is being damaged. May, for example, is trained as a chemical-weapons defense officer.

"It shows that the policy is dumb. It's not based on reality; it's based on political perception," Frank said. "This has never made a lot of sense militarily, particularly when they come to complain to us that they can't get enough people in the military."

Last month, Frank wrote Clinton and asked him to call off the investigation of May. He received a reply from a White House counsel, Beth Nolan, stating that his request had been forwarded to the Defense Department.

"I well remember the political difficulties that arose that led to this decision, . . " Frank wrote back to Clinton last week. "But none of that justifies the brush-off that Ms. Nolan has given."

Frank also is critical of McCain, whom he said should take up May's cause.

"This is an issue at home. He knows Steve May well. Does John McCain think he should be kicked out of the military?" Frank asked. "McCain thinks I have been very unfair to him when I've said he's been very unsympathetic to the question of fair treatment for gay people. Steve May is a supporter of his. He certainly does not seem to be reciprocating."

McCain's campaign spokesman did not return calls seeking comment.

May, who donated $1,000 to McCain as part of the fund-raiser Tuesday night and has been a vocal supporter, said he has not discussed his situation with McCain. May was inspired to join the military as a kid after talking with McCain about his experience in Vietnam.

"I don't think he wants his opinion to be confronted by the facts of this case," May said. "I think it would be hard for a man like John McCain not to recognize this is a failed policy."

May hopes his attorneys can persuade his Army commanders to end the discharge proceedings. If they don't, the case will progress and he likely will be discharged in the next four to six months.

"I don't feel my sexual orientation should be an issue. I should be judged on the basis of my performance. I think most Americans agree," he said.

"The Army evaluates me on the basis of honesty, integrity, courage, responsibility and service. At the same time they expect me to live a deceitful life. It's immoral."