Henry A. Wallace, Vice President of the United States, born (d: 1965): No…the 33rd Vice President of the United States, under Franklin Roosevelt, was not a gay man. But his candidacy for President in 1948 marks a momentous turning point in Gay Rights in the United States.
On Aug. 10, 1948, Harry Hay first formulated the organizational and political call for what would become in just a few short years the Mattachine Society for “homosexual emancipation.” That was the night that Ray Glazer invited Hay to be one of 90 people at a public signing of presidential hopeful Henry Wallace’s candidacy petition in California. (rf: Stuart Timmons, “The Trouble with Harry Hay” White Crane Books)
Hay was thrilled about Wallace’s campaign. Henry Agard Wallace was running for president on the Progressive Party ticket against incumbent Democrat Harry Truman and Republican Thomas Dewey. Wallace had been Franklin D. Roosevelt’s secretary of agriculture during the Depression and then vice president from 1941 to 1945. Wallace was still publicly championing the “New Deal” reforms he helped craft for FDR’s administration — economic concessions designed to save capitalism from a potentially revolutionary movement of workers and oppressed people. As a third-party candidate, he opposed the Cold War already begun by the right wing of the U.S. capitalist class, which had emerged from World War II with military, political and economic supremacy over the world. He supported an end to segregation, full voting rights for blacks, and universal government health insurance.
Democrats became enthused and were registering as Progressives. And for many who hungered for progressive change, Wallace’s slogan of faith in “the quietness and strength of grass”— the grassroots — infused them with hope and energy. In virtually every campaign speech, Wallace denounced Jim Crow segregation — even in the rural Deep South. Wallace spoke to 16,000 cheering people in Louisville, Ky., in 1947 — the biggest unsegregated meeting ever held in that city. Students for Wallace at UCLA marched in protest against “whites only” barber shops near the Westwood campus. (Timmons)
That night of Aug. 10, still exhilarated by the signing event, Hay went to a party in which the two dozen guests were all men who he later said seemed to be “of the persuasion.” A French seminary student at the party asked if Hay had heard about the recently published “Kinsey Report.” Hay himself had been interviewed and become part of that study eight years earlier.
It was a bit of a code for a male stranger to open up with talk about the Kinsey Report. Timmons points out, “Its first volume, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, was the season’s most talked-about book, especially among homosexuals, with its claim that 37% of adult men had experienced homosexual relations. To Harry, that newly revealed number suggested the dimensions of an organizable minority. He voiced the idea. When his friend protested that organizing homosexuals was impossible, Harry rebutted him. There could be millions of people who might fall into a group that would find great benefit in organizing. Certainly it would be difficult, but it was not impossible.”
Others at the party were drawn to this debate. They reportedly disagreed with Hay: “There was too much hatred of homosexuals. Any individual who went public could be entrapped and discredited. There were too many different kinds of homosexuals; they’d never get along. And anyway, people belonging to such an organization would lose their jobs.”
As Hay batted away at each argument, he reportedly became more convinced himself that it was possible to organize homosexuals. He raised the idea of creating a “fast bail” fund and seeking out progressive attorneys for victims of anti-Gay police entrapment. This was an important concept, since getting caught in a sting operation by cops meant shelling out lots of money to shady lawyers and crooked officials.
Hay also suggested incorporating education about homosexuality in high school hygiene classes. Soon Hay was leading a discussion about building a Gay male organization to support Wallace’s presidential bid, which in turn might win a sexual privacy plank in the Progressive Party platform. By then, Hay was winning over some of his audience. They suggested some defiantly campy names, but Hay put forward a more subtle one: “Bachelors for Wallace.”
While still at the party, Hay wrote out all the ideas that had been discussed that night about homosexual organizing on a sheet of butcher block paper. Biographer Stuart Timmons offers the following detailed account of what Hay thought about and did that night after the party:
As he drove home, Hay thought about how the reactionary post-war period “was already of concern to many of us progressives. I knew the government was going to look for a new enemy, a new scapegoat. It was predictable.” African Americans were galvanizing a movement for civil rights, buttressed by world horror at the mass extermination of Jews by German fascism. But those he called “the Queers” would be a natural scapegoat.
“They were the one group of disenfranchised people who did not even know they were a group because they had never formed as a group. They—we—had to get started. It was high time.”
That night he sat up in his study writing two papers. The first was a proposed plank for the Progressive Party platform. The second was a proposal for an organization of Gay men that could continue after the party convention was over.
Timmons described the document concerning homosexual organizing in some detail. “This second, much more elaborate paper, based in a Marxist perspective, forged a principle that Hay had struggled years to formulate: that homosexuals were a minority, which he temporarily dubbed ‘the Androgynous Minority.’” Hay referred to the shared characteristics of what constitutes a nation to argue that homosexuals were a cultural minority. Hay wrote, “I felt we had two of the four, the language and the culture, so clearly we were a social minority.”