Serving out loud – Brief Article
A gay Republican legislator finds himself targeted under “don’t ask, don’t tell”
In some ways the Boy Scouts of America has much in common with the U.S. military: drab uniforms, strict codes of conduct, homophobia. Just ask Steve May, conservative Republican member of the Arizona house of representatives, Mormon, first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve, Eagle scout, and openly gay man currently under investigation by the Pentagon and facing discharge from the armed forces.
The Army says May violated its “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in a big way February 3, when he discussed his homosexuality–which was no secret anyway–on the Arizona house floor during a heated debate on public funding of health care benefits for same-sex couples. But the 27-year-old legislator, who has a boyfriend, two dogs, and Matt Dillon good looks, will not march quietly from the field. He vows to fight his discharge and by extension the military’s policy, which he calls “heinous.”
“I’m not kicked out yet, so I’m still fighting,” May says. “I’m still going to drill. And I just got a letter from the Army Reserve asking for proof of my college degree so I can be promoted to captain. I’m going to be promoted before they try to kick me out.” May figures he still has up to a year left to serve and adds that he would willingly go into battle for the group that is trying to oust him.
May grew up in the Phoenix district he represents. He long coveted a career in politics and ran for the seat unsuccessfully in 1996 before being elected the second time around, in 1998. Press reports said he had come out on the Arizona house floor in a heated debate, thus sparking the Army investigation. In a letter sent to President Clinton in September, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who is openly gay, and Rep. Tom Campbell (R-Calif.) complained that the Pentagon’s decision to pursue May violates constitutional protections legislators have “for comments they legitimately make in the course of legislative debate.”
However, May was out as a gay man before his comments. He ran for office as an openly gay man, winning the endorsement of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund. The distinction is an important one to May, because as a scout, an Army reservist, and the only openly gay Republican state lawmaker in America, being forthright about his sexuality required some degree of courage and honor. And like the gay men who use the lessons learned in Scouting to battle the Scouts’ antigay policies, May is using the qualifies instilled in him by the military (and, he adds, the Scouts and Mormons) to take on the top brass in the U.S. Army.
“There is an official military oath,” says May, “to defend the president and the constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. But there’s this informalized code of conduct and honor. And as a midshipman in the Navy ROTC, I learned that a midshipman never lies, never cheats, and never steals.”
Different commands use different codes, May says, and the emphasis sometimes changes within commands. “I just got a communication from my command about how military operations depend on honesty and trust,” he says. “Of course, they fail to mention that it runs completely counter to “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
RELATED ARTICLE: Scouting for homophobia
Advocate.com visitors record their experiences in the Scouts and the military
Feelings of ostracism in the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts–and, later, in the military–are hardly new to gay and lesbian youth of the 1990s. When The Advocate asked former scouts visiting its Web site whether they felt they “fit in” while in the Scouts, only 53.8% answered yes–and this from people whose Scouting experience was likely years before the current debate and perhaps even before the scouts themselves were fully aware of their sexual orientation. Nevertheless, 7.2% of the former Girl and Boy Scouts went on to enlist in the military–where fully 78.5% reported witnessing homophobia, including 100% of the women service members. One possible conclusion is that the sidelining of “different” kids that begins in the Scouts explodes into explicit antigay harassment–and even violence–in the armed forces.
Respondents who had been scouts and said they felt they “fit in”: 54.8% of women, 53.7% of men
Former’ scouts who joined the military: 9.7% of women, 6.8% of men
Ex-scout service members who witnessed homophobia in the military: 100% of women, 72.7% of men
Service members who were themselves victims of military homophobia: 33.3% of women, 27.2% of men
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