Confessions of a Gay, Right-Wing Mormon

State Representative Steve May is a walking, talking contradiction

Quinn is a quiet type who says May has taught him everything he knows about politics. Quinn hates the social aspect of the political game, but never considered leaving May or discouraging his candidacies.

"He's a gem," Quinn says of May. "He is one of those people who is bound to do this."

Neither knew what the cost would be.

When he decided it was time to run for office, Steve May did the natural thing. He called an old friend, a politician he admired, and asked for advice. In this case, the friend was then-state senator Tom Patterson, a conservative Republican from May's neighborhood. Patterson encouraged May to challenge Senator Chris Cummiskey, a Democrat, in Legislative District 25 in central Phoenix.

Patterson didn't know May was gay. And May didn't know that District 25 happens to be the one legislative district in Arizona where being gay can actually work to a politician's advantage. For most of this decade, District 25 pols have won by appealing to the district's relatively large, politically active gay community, most of whom happen to be Democrats.

So the 1996 race pitted Steve May--closeted homosexual, conservative Republican--against Chris Cummiskey--heterosexual but yet the darling of the district's gay community.

Jeff Ofstedahl, who was then general manager of Echo Magazine, a gay publication, explains, "Steve wasn't gay enough for the gay district, and he was too gay for the Republicans."

Once May figured out that the district had a strong gay power base, he came out quietly to some gay leaders. But he guarded his privacy, refusing to let Quinn move into his condo and hiding their relationship from Republican party leaders.

"I was still convinced that you could not be gay and have a career in politics. I thought that I would have to make a choice," May says. "I was even, at that point, thinking I could just marry a woman, do my political life and be married to a woman, no big deal."

May recalls driving home after a day of campaigning with a volunteer who had parked in front of May's condo. "Paul walks out in one of my Army tee shirts carrying the trash. . . . I was freaking out."

And then, in July 1996--two months before the primary election--the local head of a GOP gay activist group, the Log Cabin Republicans, sent a letter to the executive committee of the Maricopa County Republican party, endorsing May and announcing his homosexuality.

The jig was finally up.
"I found out the letter was going out, and I just thought, 'I should kill myself. This is over. It's over, I should kill myself. Not only is my campaign over, my life is over,'" May recalls.

"I'm like walking around . . . like, 'What am I going to do? How am I going to explain this to everybody?'

". . . My whole life I have worked so hard to do the right thing, to be good . . . and to do what I thought to be true, and I always worked hard so that I could be successful. And I thought that this one letter was going to destroy my life. It was an awful, awful experience."

May considered camping out on the district chairwoman's lawn and stealing the letter from her mailbox.

"Paul was like, 'No, you can't do that. You're just going to have to deal with it. You don't want to go to jail, too.'"

So he dealt with it. He dealt with hate mail and vitriolic phone calls. He walked door to door in the district four hours a day. He amassed an impressive war chest--$40,000--and, amazingly, won his Republican primary.

But the Arizona Human Rights Fund, the state's gay fund-raising organization, endorsed Cummiskey in the general election.

"Picking your political partners is a lot like a marriage," Jeff Ofstedahl says. "It is not a marriage of convenience, and you don't dump your partner just because someone more attractive comes around--especially when that partner's been there and has been a leader on issues that are very unpopular at the Legislature."

Gerrie Mayer-Gibbons, a member of the Human Rights Fund's board, adds, "We don't vote for people just because they're gay."

She grilled May during his AHRF interview.
"I gave him such an awful time," Mayer-Gibbons recalls. "He was ignorant. He was ignorant about any of the gay issues. He was ignorant about women's issues. . . . He said, 'You're just not being fair to me.' And I said, 'Oh yes, I am. You're not in any way prepared to represent anybody in the state government.'"

May lost.
"The gay community made the right choice, I think," he says now.
May was back on the campaign trail in 1998, running for one of two vacant House seats in Legislative District 26, his boyhood home turf.

"I wouldn't have minded if he hadn't done it again, but he had to do it," says Quinn, who served as May's campaign treasurer for both races. "It's part of him. It's what he's got to do. And I'll support him through the next one. It's his passion, and you can't take that away from someone."

This time, the gay community came out in force for May. He raised more than $80,000--the best-funded legislative race of 1998--with a large percentage coming from the gay community. One gay fund raiser alone raised more than $17,000.

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