Discharge Urged for Gay Reservist

The Associated Press

December 12, 1999 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Blogger Tumblr

PHOENIX (AP) – A military investigator is recommending the Army discharge a reserve lieutenant who revealed his sexual orientation while on the job as a state lawmaker.

Army officials began investigating Lt. Steve May after he discussed his homosexuality during a legislative hearing in February. May was a civilian at the time, but was recalled to active duty a few weeks later.

"It appears the immediate commander has not an option but to recommend initiation of a separation action to higher headquarters," the investigator, Maj. Eileen Norton, wrote in her report. The report is part of May's confidential personnel file, which he released to The Associated Press.

Nevertheless, Norton recommended May's commanders consider his performance – he was rated an exceptional officer with an unblemished career – when deciding whether to recommend retaining or dismissing him.

In a sworn statement for the investigation, Capt. Stephen Sherbondy supported his officer, saying: "May's performance as an officer under my command has been nothing less than outstanding since he joined the unit."

Under Department of Defense regulations, homosexuals are not allowed to serve in the armed forces. The military's "don't ask, don't tell, don't pursue" policy is designed only to prevent it from seeking out such information.

May's commanding general will decide whether to call a separation hearing board of three senior officers. If the board votes to discharge May, the decision would have to be approved by the secretary of the Army. That process could take several months.

In the meantime, May, 28, is being considered for promotion to captain.

"I'm physically fit, mentally fit, an outstanding officer and they're kicking me out," May said. "I wish I could be left alone, serve my soldiers, serve my constituents and serve my country."

May's attorney, Christopher Wolf, has written the Army asking May's commanders to use their authority under regulations Wolf said would allow retention of an openly gay officer when "separation of the officer would not be in the best interest of the Armed Forces."

If that fails, May said he will challenge a discharge in court, arguing the Army cannot limit his free speech rights as a civilian or interfere with his ability to represent his constituents as a state legislator.

"This would cost me nothing to walk away right now. Believe me, I think about that every day," May said. "But it's my obligation to fight this immorality."

Retired Lt. Col. Robert Maginnis, who helped draft the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, said he expects May to be discharged regardless of his service record.

In the few cases where gays have been allowed to remain in the service, the soldiers promised not to engage in any homosexual activity. But May has been open about his sexuality and is a partner in a 4-year gay relationship, Maginnis said. "It's an open and shut case," he said.

The investigation began after May's company commander was given a copy of an article from the weekly New Times newspaper about May's comments in February on a bill that would have prohibited government benefits for employees' gay partners.

During the hearing, the first-term Republican representative – who has been openly gay since before his first campaign in 1996 – rebuked a colleague who said homosexuality was "at the lower end of the behavioral spectrum" and a threat to society.

"You can hate me. You can discriminate against me. You can be as bigoted as you want to be. But treat me fairly under the law," he said.

He was recalled to duty a few weeks later in preparation for a possible ground assault in Kosovo, and he reported to the 348th Transportation Company, where he is the executive officer.

May's personnel file shows he consistently earned the highest marks in performance evaluations throughout his military career, even after his homosexuality became public knowledge.