Harry Hay (April 7, 1912, Worthing, England – October 24, 2002) was a leader in the gay rights movement in the United States, known for founding the Mattachine Society in 1950 and the Radical Faeries in 1979. He was raised as a Catholic.
Founder of the Mattachine Society
Hay was born in 1912 in the coastal town of Worthing, Sussex, England where he grew up until his parents emigrated to California in 1919. Starting in Los Angeles in 1950, Hay worked with a handful of supporters to found the Mattachine Society. At this time, nineteen years before the Stonewall riots, virtually no gays or lesbians were publicly out, it was illegal for homosexuals to gather in public, and the American Psychiatric Association defined homosexuality as a mental illness. Very slowly, he gathered members to this group. The Mattachine Society met in secret, with members often accompanied by a female friend to prevent being publicly identified as gay. Though Henry Gerber's gay rights group The Society for Human Rights had briefly flowered in Chicago twenty years earlier, it was quickly shut down by authorities. Hay's successful launching of a lasting national gay network makes him a plausible entry for the founder of the American gay rights movement.
Although Harry Hay claimed 'never to have even heard' of the earlier gay liberation struggle in Germany - by the people around Adolf Brand, Magnus Hirschfeld and Leontine Sagan - he is known to have talked about it with European emigres in America including Mattachine co-founder Rudi Gernreich. (However, Gernreich arrived in America at age 14, and Hay had already written his gay manifesto when they met).
Hay, along with Roger Barlow and LeRoy Robbins, directed a short film Even As You and I (1937) featuring Hay, Barlow, and filmmaker Hy Hirsh. A married man (beard/wife Anita Platky) and a member of the Communist Party USA, Hay composed the first manifesto of the American gay rights movement in 1948, writing:
- We, the Androgynes of the world, have formed this responsible corporate body to demonstrate by our efforts that our physiological and psychological handicaps need be no deterrent in integrating 10 percent of the world's population towards the constructive social progress of mankind.
He soon dispensed with the apologetic language and ideas. Though it may seem very dated today, the group was very radical for its time. Hay and the Mattachine Society were among the first to argue that gay people were not just individuals but in fact represented a "cultural minority" (see Queer culture). They even called for public marches of homosexuals, predicting later gay pride parades. Hay's concept of the "cultural minority" came directly from his Marxist studies, and the rhetoric that he and his colleague Charles Rowland employed often reflected the militant Communist tradition. As the Mattachine Society grew with chapters around the country, the organization saw the Communist ties of its founders, including Hay, as a threat during the McCarthyite witch-hunt era, and expelled them from leadership. The organization took a more cautious tack so that by the time of the Stonewall riots the Mattachine Society came to be seen by many as stodgy and assimilationist.
The Communist Party did not allow gays to be members, claiming that homosexuality was a 'deviation'; perhaps more important was the fear that a member's (usually secret) homosexuality would leave them open to blackmail and made them a security risk in an era of red-baiting. Concerned to save the party difficulties, as he put more energy into the Mattachine Society, Hay himself approached the CP's leaders and recommended his own expulsion. However, after much soul-searching, the CP, clearly reeling at the loss of a respected member and theoretician of 18 years' standing, refused to expel Hay, instead dropping him as a 'security risk' but ostentatiously announcing him to be a 'Lifelong Friend of the People'.
Founder of Radical Faeries
Hay later became an outspoken critic of gay assimilationism and went on to help found both Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition and the gay men's group the Radical Faeries, as well as being active in the Native American movements.
- "We pulled ugly green frog skin of heterosexual conformity over us, and that's how we got through school with a full set of teeth," Hay once explained. "We know how to live through their eyes. We can always play their games, but are we denying ourselves by doing this? If you're going to carry the skin of conformity over you, you are going to suppress the beautiful prince or princess within you."
In the early 1980s Hay protested the exclusion of the North American Man Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) from participation in the LGBT movement. Though he was never a member of NAMBLA, he gave a number of speeches at its meetings, and in 1986 he marched in the Los Angeles Pride Parade, from which the organization had been banned, with a sign reading "NAMBLA walks with me."
In 1963, at age 51, he met an inventor named John Burnside, who became his life partner. They lived first in Los Angeles and later in a Pueblo Indian reserve in New Mexico. After returning to Los Angeles to organize the Radical Faerie movement with Don Kilhefner, the couple moved to San Francisco, where Hay died of lung cancer at age 90.
Hay was the subject of the 2002 documentary by Eric Slade Hope along the Wind: The Life of Harry Hay (2002). He also appeared in other documentaries, such as Word is Out (1978).
After the death of the actor Will Geer, who had found fame as Grandpa Walton on The Waltons television show, Hay claimed that Geer had been one of his first male lovers in the early '30s. Hay wrote about their political activism and said that he and Geer were present at the San Francisco General Strike in July 1934.
- Hay, Harry & Roscoe, Will, (ed.) (1996), Radically Gay: Gay Liberation in the Words of Its Founder, Boston: Beacon Press, p. 64, ISBN 0807070815
- Feinberg, Leslie (June 28, 2005), “Harry Hay: Painful partings”, Workers World, <http://www.workers.org/2005/us/lavender-red-40/>. Retrieved on 2007-11-01
- Thompson, Mark (January 21, 2003), “Remembering Harry”, The Advocate, <http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1589/is_2003_Jan_21/ai_96072134>. Retrieved on 2007-11-01
- Hadleigh, Boze (2005), Celebrity Diss and Tell: Stars Talk about Each Other, Andrews McMeel Publishing, p. 135, ISBN 0740754734
- Bullough, Vern L., (ed.) (2002), Before Stonewall: Activists for Gay and Lesbian Rights in Historical Context, Harrington Park Press, ISBN 1560231939
- Timmons, Stuart (1990), The Trouble with Harry Hay: Founder of the Modern Gay Movement, Alyson Publications, ISBN 1555831753
- Keehnen, Owen (24 March 2005), “Remembering the Amazing Harry Hay”, Interviews by Owen Keehnen, <http://www.infopt.demon.co.uk/hay.htm>. Retrieved on 2007-11-01
- Hay, Harry. Edited by Will Roscoe (1996). Radically Gay: Gay Liberation in the Words of its Founder. Boston: Beacon Press. ISBN 0-8070-7080-7
- On Important pre-Stonewall Activists
- A Gay Conservative article critical of Hay
- Harry Hay at the Internet Movie Database
- Hope Along the Wind: The Story of Harry Hay film's website