Longform

Confessions of a Gay, Right-Wing Mormon

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". . . 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."

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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at amy-silverman.com.