1912-04-07

HARRY HAY, founder of the Mattachine Society and the Radical Faeries, was born (d: 2002); 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 emigrés 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 Hirsch. 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 compared to the rest of society at the time of its beginnings. It and Hay were among the first to advance the argument that Gay people represented a “cultural minority” as well as being just individuals, and 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 he and his colleague Charles Rowland employed often reflected the militancy of 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 that McCarthy-ite 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 gay people 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 was 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’.

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 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 inventor 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 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).