They didn't ask, but lawmaker told

Gay in Ariz. Legislature speaks out on bill, sparks scrutiny by Army Reserve

August 26, 1999|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

PHOENIX -- Steve May knew from the time he was in his early teens that he wanted to be a politician, specifically a conservative Republican politician. He carefully built his life, he says, to shape an attractive resume, from his decision to enter ROTC in college and then serve as an Army officer to his efforts at building a track record as a small-business man.

It worked. May served with distinction as a lieutenant on active duty in the Army and then entered the Reserve, and last November he was elected to the state Legislature, to represent the affluent, conservative district where he had grown up.

Everything seemed to be going just right until last winter, when the usually affable and measured 27-year-old bitterly spoke his mind in the Arizona House, this time not as a Republican, a Mormon or a soldier, but as a gay man.

May denounced an ultimately failed bill that would have barred the use of public funds to pay for health benefits of same-sex partners, and also attacked the legislation's conservative sponsor, Rep. Karen S. Johnson, a fellow Republican who had vigorously attacked homosexuality as immoral.

May's remarks were widely quoted and followed by a cover article in Phoenix New Times, an alternative magazine. By speaking out, he brought on one of the more unusual investigations under the Clinton administration's "don't ask, don't tell" policy toward homosexuals in the military.

Under that policy, recruiters are barred from asking applicants about their sexual orientation, and commanders are forbidden to undertake investigations of suspected homosexuality unless there is significant evidence of homosexual conduct.

Homosexuals are forbidden to disclose their orientation in a public setting; indeed, their doing so is considered evidence of an intent to engage in homosexual acts.

Col. John R. Hawkins III, the spokesman for the Army Reserve, acknowledges that an investigation of May is under way, to determine whether his remarks are grounds for discharge. He says the inquiry should come as no surprise, given the public nature of the case.

In addition, May, who was first "outed" as gay when he ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate three years ago, faces the possibility that the increased publicity about his homosexuality, as well as his scuffling with party leaders, will hurt his chances of winning re-election next year.

During his outburst in the House, he acknowledged that it might have been politically wiser to keep quiet.

"But when you attack my family," said May, whose father was once a bishop in the Mormon Church, "and you steal my freedom, I will not sit quietly in my office. This Legislature takes my gay tax dollars, and my gay tax dollars spend the same as your straight tax dollars. If you're not going to treat me fairly, don't take my money."

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