Longform

Confessions of a Gay, Right-Wing Mormon

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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.

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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.