May Vows No Surrender in Campaign for Military Service

Jerry Portwood, Southern Voice
December 23, 1999 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Blogger Tumblr

An openly gay Army reservist told an Atlanta audience last week that he is committed to fight his discharge for talking about his sexual orientation during a floor debate his first term as an Arizona state legislator.

"I will not surrender," Rep. Steve May (R-Ariz.) told the Atlanta Executive Network, a gay business group, Dec. 16. "I will continue to live openly, honestly and with integrity."

Pentagon investigators recommended earlier this month that May be processed for discharge, based upon statements he made about being gay back in February, when he was an honorably discharged civilian challenging a bill that would have prohibited domestic partner benefit programs.

But May told the AEN audience that he doesn't see his battle against "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" as one for gay civil rights.

"It is about protecting our national defense. It has never been demonstrated by the Pentagon that gay men and lesbians aren't as good, or better, than the general population," said May, a 28-year-old Mormon in his first term in the Arizona House.

He countered claims from conservatives that gay activists are using the military to advance fashionable social experiments.

"The right-wing is using the military to advance fashionable causes, and it's harming [the military]," May said.

The policy has proven itself so absurd, said May, that he "is not fighting the [DADT] policy, it's fighting itself." Instead, he plans to simply repeat his story to audiences interested in the issue.

After the meeting, between 120 and 150 Atlantans attended a fund-raiser for May that collected between $6,000 and $7,000, according to Michael Brown, outgoing president of the Log Cabin Republicans of Georgia, a gay GOP group.

The fund-raiser, held at the home of Harry Harkins and Ken Stillwell, attracted about an equal number of Democrats and Republicans, Brown said, and was May's largest-ever outside the state of Arizona.

Money raised from the event will go toward May's November 2000 re-election effort, where he expects his coming out and notoriety will result in stiff opposition in the GOP primary.

May is also soliciting contributions for his legal defense fund. He is being represented in his DADT challenge by Christopher Wolf, the same New York attorney who took on the Navy on behalf of Lt. Tim McVeigh, who was outed by America Online.

Wolf's services are donated, but May is still responsible for fees, which he has said could be as high as $100,000.

No 'poster boy'

In his AEN appearance, May said despite the attention given to his high-profile battle with the military, he does not see himself as a "poster boy" for the fight against DADT and wants to keep his primary focus on representing his constituents in the Arizona legislature.

May, a self-described conservative, was also somewhat critical of those who "run to the cities to live in our gay ghettos" rather than standing up and fighting discrimination where it lives.

He also took shots at those on the right who have suggested that the honorable thing for him to do would be to resign his commission since he came out before being called up from the Army reserves this spring.

"To say, 'Excuse me, I can't serve my country, I'm gay'? That's absurd, and it would be immoral on my part. ...I think the American people will understand and make the right choice," May said.

May was less forthcoming when asked by an AEN member why he is a member of the Republican party.

"Why would anyone want to be a Democrat?" May offered as his complete response to the question.

May also took note in his speech of his very public debate with anti-gay Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.) on CNN's "Larry King Live." Barr "is such a jerk," May said of the experience.

After the show, May said King told him, "[Barr's] a little loony; that's why we have him on the show."

Brown introduced May as the openly gay man who might one day reside in the White House, and May did not rule on higher public office. He noted that Arizona is likely to gain two new Congressional seats after the 2000 census.