By Ray Stern
By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Chris Parker
May barely has time to read the piles of bills his secretary has stuffed into an accordion folder, let alone worry about interior design.
And now he's got a visitor. A blue-suited young man named James Faulkner, one of House Speaker Jeff Groscost's minions, slips into May's office and closes the door.
What's his business? It could be one of many things.
In the past few weeks, May has infuriated one of the state's most influential companies, Intel, with legislation that would force them to tell Arizona computer buyers that their Pentium III chip is wired to record their every move on the Web.
He's rankled Scottsdale Mayor Sam Campana by opposing tax breaks for her precious hockey arena.
And May has taken on Groscost himself, criticizing the speaker for shoddy work on a bill designed to give tax breaks to people who buy land for charter schools.
Faulkner emerges a few minutes later, followed by May, who rolls his eyes and smirks.
The burning issue? The Tinky Winky doll May keeps on his desk on the House floor.
The doll--one of four characters from the children's television show Teletubbies--was a gift, the latest symbol of gay pride in the wake of evangelist Jerry Falwell's pronouncement that Tinky Winky is a homosexual.
The speaker isn't insisting that the doll be removed, May explains, but Faulkner doesn't think it should be displayed so prominently.
"He's a friend of mine, so he's worried," May says.
Steve May isn't worried. The slings and arrows he faces in the Arizona Legislature are but mild irritants for a 27-year-old former Army lieutenant turned openly gay right-wing Republican who also happens to be a Mormon.
Many of Steve May's friends have had good reason to worry about him since February 3, the day he called a colleague, Mesa Republican Representative Karen Johnson, an ignorant bigot.
Johnson had condemned homosexuals during a committee hearing on a bill that would ban insurance benefits for homosexual partners of public-sector employees. The outburst was uncharacteristic for May, who always had preferred to work quietly for gay causes.
Actually, it was uncharacteristic for any gay politician hereabouts. Although openly gay pols are no longer rare in Arizona--May joins Republican Congressman Jim Kolbe, Tempe Mayor Neil Giuliano and Democratic state Representative Ken Cheuvront--gay politicians are expected to be seen and not heard on gay-rights issues. Conservatism rules the day, and May is certainly conservative.
May never intended to become the Legislature's poster boy for gay rights. But he's still finding his way in the world, both personally and politically. The Johnson outburst was just one more stage in the metamorphosis of Steve May.
One of May's political heroes is Martin Luther King Jr. The young legislator rereads Letter From a Birmingham Jail annually, he says. In the letter, King explains his noisy activism to well-meaning white clergymen.
"There is never a convenient time for revolution!" May paraphrases. "And that's true. There never is."
But what would King think of May's brand of revolution?
At the moment, May apparently thinks he can have it both ways: He's making a name for himself as a gay activist, yet on many issues he aligns himself closely with Karen Johnson and other hard-liners in the House Republican caucus, where revolutionary thought revolves around such topics as creationism.
It's as though the gay part of May's political persona has matured by necessity, while he has yet to confront the fact that his broader social conscience remains comparatively atavistic.
At a very early age, May was certain of three things: He wanted a political career, he was a Republican, and he was gay.
May did not publicly admit his homosexuality until 1996, when he was "outed" during his first bid for a seat in the Legislature. His political views at the time were so antithetical to homosexuals that the state's largest gay political fund-raising organization endorsed his straight opponent; May lost the election.
But he altered his political stances on social issues such as domestic-partner benefits and abortion. Money from the gay community helped clinch May's victory last fall in District 26, a fairly conservative area that includes Paradise Valley, northeast Phoenix and parts of Scottsdale.
He still considers himself a staunch conservative. May says his legislative role model is Jean McGrath, a state representative from Glendale who campaigned to make Arizona a safe haven for Freon. May often votes with Representative Barbara Blewster, who recently likened homosexuality to cannibalism.
"One thing the public might have a hard time understanding," May says, "is that in the Legislature you can be bitter enemies on one issue and best friends on the next."
But some legislators think May has taken that maxim too far--that in his zeal to get along, he's selling out his own beliefs.
Glendale Representative Kathi Foster calls May the "little puppet." As a pro-life Democrat, Foster knows what it's like to be at odds with her own party caucus. But she's disappointed when May casts the deciding vote to pass one of Karen Johnson's pet bills.
And she tells him so. Foster recalls that on one occasion, May replied, "'I'm supporting my caucus.'"
"I simply replied back, 'Well, it would be nice if that door swung both ways.'"
She adds, "People were just kind of aghast that he was folding on issues that pertained to people who had been so hurtful to him. But then again, maybe that shows he's a better person--I don't know."
Steve May understands a world without absolutes. He has long been torn by seemingly opposing forces. He grew up as a closeted gay in a strict family of Mormons, whose tenets strictly forbid homosexuality. He attended a conservative private college, then entered the military at the dawn of the "don't ask, don't tell" era.
The contradictions persist. May does not attend church, but has not been excommunicated, and still considers himself a Mormon by heritage. He works side-by-side with his father at the family business, an herbal tea company, even though his parents think his homosexuality is a sin. And at home, May lives with a man, but when mom and dad come over, he hides the coffee--caffeine is a Mormon taboo.
"We have one bedroom and you're worried about a coffee maker?" his partner, Paul Quinn, teases.
At the Legislature, May goes out drinking with the moderates, but often votes with the "wacks," the latest nickname for the body's far-right conservatives.
Yet May has started speaking out on gay issues. He was the only gay Arizona politician to ride in the April 17 gay pride parade in Phoenix. On the House floor, he works stealthily but effectively, using the rules of parliamentary procedure--which he's studied since high school--to tweak bills and assure homosexuals fair treatment under the law.
When Karen Johnson tried to slip a provision into this year's budget that would have deprived cohabiting (heterosexual or homosexual) unmarried foster parents of their $350 monthly stipend from the state, May called in the television cameras. The provision was stripped.
His older, wiser colleagues tell him to keep his freshman mouth shut, May says.
"What?" he asks. "And let the state go to hell?"
Among the 57 bills Steve May has sponsored this session, not one could be considered "gay" legislation. May is more concerned with HMO reform and incremental tax financing.
But when he saw Karen Johnson's domestic-partners measure, House Bill 2524, he felt he had to do something. The bill was designed to stop Pima County and the City of Tucson, which currently offer domestic-partner benefits, from doing so. Arizona law does not require public entities to offer such benefits, but does not prohibit them from doing so.
"I have never once pushed for domestic-partner benefits," May says. "All I did was stand up in opposition to a bill that would have taken away those benefits from people who already have them."
May thought he had quietly killed HB2524. He'd cut a deal with Speaker Jeff Groscost under which the bill was assigned to the House Banking and Insurance Committee, which May vice-chairs. The panel rejected the bill.
But the next day, the bill reemerged in the House Government Reform Committee. When May learned of its resurrection and reassignment, he knew he'd been bamboozled. He went to Jimmy Jayne, the speaker's chief of staff.
"I said, 'The Speaker made a commitment that he would assign the bill to my committee and I would be able to kill it quietly,'" May recalls.
"He said, 'Well, he did that, didn't he?'"
"I said, 'Jimmy, all right, you got me on this one.'"
So May went to the Government Reform Committee hearing on HB2524. He knew the measure would pass in committee, but he had new plans to keep the bill from ever reaching the House floor. He hadn't intended to say a word. Then Johnson opened her mouth.
"In the homosexual relationship, research affirms that the average length of a relationship involving homosexual partners is 2.7 years," Johnson told the committee. "The life expectancy for a homosexual male with AIDS is 39 years of age and without AIDS it's 42.
". . . HIV and AIDS is only one of the many infections to which homosexuals are significantly prone," she continued. "Since their kind of sex involves contact with human feces, such behavior carries with it a high risk of contracting such diseases as Hepatitis A, carposis sarcoma, anal carcinoma and other rectal infections involving gonorrhea, herpes simplex, syphilis, as well as a group of rare intestinal diseases that have been grouped together under the title gay bowel syndrome.
". . . Due to the clearly recognizable consequences . . . at the lower end of the behavioral spectrum," Johnson concluded, "history tells us that good public policy cannot accept varying levels of morality."
As Johnson spoke, May felt all eyes turn toward him. Friendly lobbyists whispered jokes meant to comfort May, but he hushed them, listening intently, scribbling notes on a pad and finally rising to speak.
"I had hoped not to testify today," May said, "but I don't think anyone from the public should have to respond to the comments we just heard. Let me say--I don't know if these lies are borne of ignorance or bigotry or prejudice, but I'm 27 and I guess Mrs. Johnson is telling me I'm going to die when I'm 39 or 42. I'm offended. I'm disgusted. It's a lie.
". . . Many members, I guess, expected me to stay in my office quietly, and don't understand why I would come out publicly and oppose this ridiculous legislation. But when you attack my family and you steal my freedoms, I will not sit quietly in my office. And that's exactly what this is. It's an attack on my family, an attack on my freedom. 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, stop taking my tax dollars."
May zeroed in on Johnson's own behavior. She is a Mormon who is in her fifth marriage.
". . . I don't think divorce is good," May said. "Why don't we stop people from getting divorced for the fourth and fifth times? Why isn't that a part of the problem? I'm not asking for the right to marry, but I'd like to ask this legislature to leave my family alone. . . . You cannot make me break up with my partner, whom I love. You can't change what we do in our private lives. But you can take away my ability to care for the people that I love.
"I challenge you, Mrs. Johnson, to come up with some real facts, instead of the lies that you just gave the committee," May concluded. "I'm just appalled! I am appalled and offended with the members of this body. I don't know what else to say. But I guess I should start planning my funeral, since I'm going to die in 12 years."
Despite May's oration, the committee approved HB2524. The Johnson/May exchange made headlines, abetted by the emergence of Representative Barbara Blewster's e-mail, which likened homosexuality to cannibalism.
After a few icy days, life at the Legislature returned to normal. May went back to explaining complex bills to Blewster and kibitzing with Johnson--and often voting with both of them. Incredible as it may seem, philosophically, the three do share some common ground.
Reaction to May's February 3 outburst was mixed. Strangers approach him on the street to congratulate him. Ironically, he says, he has felt closer to hard-liners in the House since that day.
"The funny thing is, it brought me closer to the conservatives," May says. "The moderates treated me like a leper. I think the conservatives were like, 'Okay, now we know where he stands. He doesn't have a secret hidden agenda.'"
Representative Sue Gerard, the matriarch of the moderates, disagrees with May's assessment--although she worried that May's outburst would hurt his political future.
"Obviously, the time they have the best shot of kicking you out is your first round [at reelection]," she says. "And so from that perspective, having it used against you and having that kind of stuff that can be taken out of context and quoted in hit pieces, I think people who told him he should tone it down were looking at it from that point of view."
Even May's partner, Paul Quinn, was ambivalent.
"I was surprised at how childish the whole thing was," Quinn says. "I was proud of him for sticking up for himself and sticking up for people in general, but I thought the behavior of both of them was just absolutely inappropriate. I told him that. I said, 'You know, I'm glad you did that, but both of you were totally out of line.' I'm not going to say that he wasn't, because he was just as bad."
Members of both the gay and straight communities think May might have gone too far.
"As a political operative here, I'm seeing that maybe Steve is doing too much" on gay issues, says Bill Lewis, who sits on the board of the Arizona Human Rights Fund and the Victory Fund, a national gay political organization.
Was May too vocal?
"Absolutely, 100 percent," says Mark Steele, chairman of the Republican party in May's district, 26.
"The fact is he did go after Karen Johnson--rightly or wrongly--and the fact is, Karen Johnson is going to be reelected in her district, plain and simple. Steve got this thing out in front of people and I think in a bad light made it seem like the Republicans are hatemongers, and I told him so," says Steele.
"And his response to me was that 'my rights are being violated,' and [he] compared homosexuality to slavery, and of course in my view the difference between slavery and homosexuality is the slaves had no choice, but even if they do, homosexuality in my book just isn't right. . . . If he has a disagreement with any legislator, I think it should be behind closed doors. It's like drawing battle lines from Republican to Republican, and I think that's wrong. I don't think he should slam any legislator, and I don't think one should slam him.
". . . I told Steve I thought it was going to hurt his chance for reelection."
Steele says he also talked to Johnson about her behavior. "I told her I didn't think it was appropriate," he says.
Steve May grew up in central Phoenix, the third of six children. His father, Jim, a Mormon bishop, has a family tree whose roots go back to church founder Joseph Smith.
Barbara Blewster--May's fellow freshman and fellow Mormon--lived nearby. May played with Blewster's son; Blewster visited the May household as a teacher, on behalf of the church.
"I was a good boy," May recalls. "I never got in trouble, I never did anything wrong, I worked really hard. At church I gave all the talks, I was the kid that had to go out and bring in the wayward souls."
And convince them to register Republican.
In 1980, Democrat Bill Schulz challenged Republican U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater, and 8-year-old Steve asked his school principal for permission to hold a mock election. He canvassed for Goldwater, who was no match to Schulz, who happened to live in the Mays' neighborhood, Arcadia, in northeast Phoenix. Schulz won.
"I was so bummed," May recalls.
Jim May remembers that his son Steve and daughter Shannon "used to argue over who would be president of the United States first, and who would be secretary of state to whom."
At Arcadia High, Steve ran for office at every opportunity. His classmates even nominated him for student body president in the spring of his junior year, when he was in Germany on an exchange program. (He lost.) A decade later, former schoolmates still refer to him as "Mr. Student Council" and recall that he took himself very seriously.
Jason Rose, a political consultant who graduated from Arcadia a year ahead of May, remembers May as ambitious and driven. "He seemed like a guy that wanted to do everything possible to keep his political options open in hopes of assuming higher office."
Amy Rutkin, a 1986 Arcadia graduate who's now chief of staff to Brooklyn Democratic Congressman Gerald Nadler, was president of the Arcadia Student Political Union. She recalls clashing with May on the issues of the day, particularly during Model Legislature, a program sponsored by the YMCA in which high school students hold an annual mock legislative session.
Rutkin recalls that May's bills were outrageous; one year he proposed seceding from the Union.
Yet he was masterful in defending his positions. In fact, May was so earnest that even some adults found his diatribes annoying. One parent recalls sending a note to the House floor telling him, "Stick a cork in it, Steve."
But Rutkin respected May. "I never found him arrogant and obnoxious," she says. "I just found him kind of well-spoken and thoughtful. He definitely was as far to the other side of the political spectrum as I could have imagined."
Yes, she agrees, May took his role more seriously than most.
"Kids went to Model Leg to find a date," Rutkin says, "and he went to deliberate the serious issues of the day."
That's because for May, debating came easier than dating.
Steve recalls that in the third grade, he developed a crush on a classmate named Geoff.
"I remember sitting out on the playground, sitting next to Geoff," May recalls, "and telling him the next day that I was up all night crying, that I had these feelings for him but I knew it was wrong, but I just thought he should know how I felt. . . . It wasn't a sexualized thing, because I don't think we knew what that was, but it was definitely something that was inappropriate."
May didn't act on his feelings until he was 16. But even while he was dating men, he refused to accept the notion that he was gay.
"At a certain point, probably during high school, I decided that this was one of my challenges God had given me, was to overcome these feelings, that it was just one more Mormon trial," he says. "I worked very hard to overcome it."
Jim May announced he would pay Steve's way to college, provided he attend Brigham Young University in Salt Lake City. Steve felt the Mormon institution was intellectually and socially restrictive. So May won a Navy ROTC scholarship to Claremont McKenna College, a private liberal arts college east of Los Angeles, part of a five-college cluster that includes Pomona College. Claremont McKenna is a bastion of conservative political thought and not a place that celebrated homosexuality.
But at the time, neither did May. He kept his social life private, attending church and insisting to himself that he could be both gay and Mormon. But a day of reckoning was at hand. At 19, Mormon men are expected to go on a two-year church mission.
"When you're 19 and you're Mormon and you don't go on a mission, you're an outcast," May says. "You're an embarrassment to your family. People say things about you."
The summer after his freshman year--weeks before his 19th birthday--May made his choice.
"I decided to be honest with myself one way or another," he recalls. "One was, 'I'm honest, I'm out,' or I forever put that part of my life and feelings away and I do the good boy Mormon thing for the rest of my life."
So May told his parents he was gay. They both wept for three days, he says, then insisted he quit school and come home to work for the family tea business.
"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.
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.'"
"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.
May worked hard for the money. He studied gay and women's issues, and came out as pro-choice. But while he was openly gay, he did not make gay rights a main plank of his campaign platform. Jason Rose, May's former schoolmate, was impressed.
"I for one was not real optimistic about the guy in [District] 26. I thought his race would look opportunistic . . . and I thought his widely publicized outing would also hurt him," Rose says.
"But as it turned out . . . I think he ran the race on his own terms. I think he ran as a more humble candidate, and it came across. He ran a very, very effective, issues-oriented campaign."
May and Quinn continued to get hate mail in '98, and Quinn refused to answer the phone throughout the campaign. May says a gay politician walks a tightrope--trying to stand up for his community but not wanting to be too vocal, for fear he'll be shut down entirely.
"I'm constantly reminding him, 'Get away from the gay thing. Concentrate on other issues and stuff that you want to do,'" Quinn says. "He always says, 'I'm trying, but they keep bringing it up.'"
May's voting record in the House has been schizophrenic.
Recently, he used parliamentary procedure to amend two bills on the House floor and make them palatable to gays.
One of the bills, House Bill 2088, offers tax breaks to people who buy long-term care insurance. The original version stipulated that only spouses and certain family members could receive the tax breaks. May removed that provision, so anyone could benefit from the break--a lesbian buying insurance for her partner, for example.
The other bill, SB1309, increases the maximum penalty for domestic-violence convictions. May altered the language to include domestic-violence victims whose assailants are the same sex.
At the same time, however, May has not stopped voting with the likes of Barbara Blewster and Karen Johnson.
He drew ire from Democrats and moderate Republicans when he cast the deciding vote, in March, for Johnson's bill to switch responsibility for the keeping of vital records from the Department of Health Services to the state library. A companion bill would make the library employees political appointees, and the moderates believed this was a conspiracy to put important records on matters like AIDS and abortion into the hands of a future, "wack" governor.
Sue Gerard called May a slut. Karen Johnson kneeled at his desk, thanking him profusely.
Johnson did not return calls for this story. But Blewster did. She says she has no trouble working closely with May, even though she abhors his sexual preference.
"I'm a Christian. I like people. I accept them as my fellow man," says Blewster. "And it doesn't mean I like all that they do. But I don't harbor grudges against somebody. . . . We don't discuss the issue that separates us. We talk when there's reason for us to talk about other issues."
It's April 8, and the calendar in Steve May's office still says January 11.
No bill is ever truly shelved in the Arizona Legislature until sine die, but today it appears that May's Internet privacy bill is dead. Same for Karen Johnson's anti-domestic partners insurance bill. Speaker Groscost's break for charter schools is still breathing.
Tinky Winky sits on a credenza in May's office. Shortly after James Faulkner's admonition, the toy was kidnaped by a group of Democrats who returned it a few days later with a cigarette in its mouth. May didn't bother to take Tinky Winky back to the House floor.
May is preoccupied, at the moment, with a bill that would divert sales tax from municipalities to pay for the construction of facilities like the proposed Coyotes arena in Scottsdale and Rio Salado Crossing in Mesa.
"These are private businesses who are trying to find loopholes in the law so they can suck the money out of the public treasury instead of raising it on their own and risking their own capital," he says. "They want the public to take on the risk and they want the public to build their own private businesses."
May and Representative Ken Cheuvront, a Democrat, have teamed up to offer a series of amendments to weaken the bill. After a long afternoon on the House floor, most of the amendments pass, only to be stripped minutes later by Groscost's parliamentarianism.
The stadium bill is an example of the power of lobbyists at the Capitol, May says. Even though Cheuvront is the only other openly gay member of the Legislature, the two don't agree on much. But May thinks it's no coincidence that he and Cheuvront felt comfortable teaming up on the stadium bill, against business interests, because, unlike most legislators, these men don't rely solely on big business for campaign cash.
Early on, May says, Cheuvront told him of gay money, "It's the best money. It's free money."
"I have an independent funding base in the gay community," May says. "I don't have to rely on any lobbyists or any special-interest groups. And the gay people who give me money don't give me money so I fight for gay causes. They don't care that you fight for gay causes, they care that you exist. Period, end of story. I don't have to do a single thing."
And yet he does. It's hard to say whether May's newfound devotion to gay causes is a design to grab headlines and money and, perhaps someday, higher office, or simply part of his continuing intellectual and social evolution. He is, after all, very young.
Either way, even his best friends think May might be a bit out of control.
Arizona Human Rights Fund board member Bill Lewis says May's activism "has been good for us."
But not so good for May personally--perhaps.
"I think he can wiggle out of it," Lewis says. "I don't think he's dead meat yet."
Contact Amy Silverman at 602-229-8443 or at her online address: firstname.lastname@example.org