Confessions of a Gay, Right-Wing Mormon

The date is February 24, but the calendar pages in Steve May's office haven't been flipped since January 11, the first day of his first session as a member of the Arizona House of Representatives.

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."