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"They offered me money to come back and work in the company, so I could go through therapy and all that kind of stuff," he says.
May refused. His parents were unhappy, but they never kicked him out of their lives.
"When I told them I was gay, they made me promise not to tell any of my brothers and sisters," May says. "And my dad said to me, 'Well, you're always welcome at home as long as you don't bring any diseases home with you.'"
His 19th birthday came and went, and May stayed at Claremont. He continued to go to church, even taking his non-Mormon boyfriend with him. Only the church pianist, who also happened to be gay, knew what was going on.
Torn between the church and his lifestyle, May took the opportunity to study in Nigeria for six months. He broke up with his boyfriend, half believing he'd return home, put his homosexuality aside and go on his Mormon mission.
That didn't work. By his senior year in college, May was beginning to feel comfortable with his life. He began buying small properties in Phoenix, planning to move back after graduation, get into the development business and someday run for public office.
Then Uncle Sam threw him back into the closet. After a miserable summer in a Navy submarine, May had switched to the Army National Guard. He was on duty one weekend a month during college, but never read the fine print in his contract, which allowed the Army to call him to active duty.
"February of my senior year at Claremont I get a call from the Pentagon, that I had to go on active duty for four years. I'm like, 'What?!'"
In the military, May had often been asked if he was gay, and he always said no. He recalls one of many physical examinations:
"So you're naked in front of this old man, he's looking you over, feeling you up everywhere. They check out every little space. 'Okay, bend over,' checking for hemorrhoids. And while he's doing this, he says, 'Do you smoke marijuana?' 'No.' 'Homosexual?' It was really weird."
He graduated from college on May 16 and reported for duty in Alabama three days later. "I was so pissed. I just couldn't believe it."
After two and a half years, May got an honorable discharge, and headed back to Arizona to work for Wisdom of the Ancients, the tea company his dad had founded in 1982.
Jim May had met a Peace Corps volunteer at a party in the early 1980s. The volunteer had been in Paraguay, where he discovered herbal teas and a plant called stevia, which can be used as a sweetener. Jim bought farmland and a manufacturing plant in Paraguay and began shipping the products to the U.S. He found that one of the teas, mate (rhymes with "latte"), was popular among Mormons because it contains a natural stimulant similar to caffeine.
The business never made much money. Steve, who stocked shelves and sold the product door-to-door as a kid, always swore he'd never join the family business. But Wisdom of the Ancients was in trouble in 1995, and Steve needed a job.
Jim paid Steve $5 an hour, and let his son put his college economics classes to use. Steve laughs, recalling those early days. His dad believed so strongly in the product, he figured it would simply sell itself. Steve put computers in the office, hired new sales people and reined in his dad, the dreamer.
"The first time I went down to Paraguay, I'm like, 'We have fucking 12 tons of [tea] bark in this place, and I can't sell it in a hundred years!' And that's plus all the crap that's back here," he says, gesturing toward the warehouse behind the Wisdom of the Ancients office in Tempe. "I'm like, 'What the hell are you doing?'"
He says his father sheepishly replied, "Well, what if we get a big order?"
Shortly after his return to Arizona, May hooked up with a college acquaintance, Paul Quinn.
Quinn, who is also gay, had a college experience far removed from May's. While May was attending church and playing soldier, Quinn was battling Claremont McKenna administrators over the inclusion of "sexual preference" in the college's antidiscrimination standards. Ironically, officials refused to formally prohibit discrimination based on sexual preference because the college feared it would lose its ROTC status. Quinn prevailed; the story even made the New York Times.
Quinn left Claremont McKenna after his sophomore year and ended his brief foray into gay activism. He met up with May in 1995 when the two learned they were both living in the Valley; Quinn teaches sign language at Arizona State University.
Although there had never been any attraction before, Steve and Paul fell for each other. Quinn was sure it was short-term; May had applied for a Rhodes scholarship that would have taken him abroad. When he was rejected, the relationship got more intense.
Then May dropped the bomb: He wanted to run for office.
"When we started dating seriously, I had no idea what he was going to do," says Quinn, who only grudgingly approves of the spotlight he and May find themselves in.