Harry Hay

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Harry Hay

Henry (Harry) Hay was a life long Marxist and Homosexual rights activist. He was an ardent American Communist, a romantic homosexual, an amateur musician and aspiring actor, a disaffected Roman Catholic, a sometime labor organizer and a man of secretive nature.[1] He died on October 24, 2002, age 90 of lung cancer, survived by his adopted daughters, Kate Berman and Hannah Muldaven.[2]

Hay and his partner of 39 years, John Burnside, had lived in San Francisco for three years after a lifetime in Los Angeles.

Early life

Harry Hay was born in England in 1912. His father worked as a mining engineer in South Africa and Chile, but the family settled in Southern California. After graduating from Los Angeles High School, Harry Hay briefly attended Stanford, but dropped out and returned to Los Angeles.[2]


Hay worked as both an extra and ghostwriter in 1930s Hollywood. He became interested in theater, and performed on Los Angeles stages with Anthony Quinn in the 1930s, and with Will Geer, who became his lover. Geer took Hay to the San Francisco General Strike of 1935, and recruited him into the Communist Party USA.[1]

Hay became an active trade unionist. A blend of Marxist analysis and stagecraft strongly influenced Hay's later gay organizing.

n 1934, Harry Hay attended the legendary Longshoreman’s Strike in San Francisco, known as the San Francisco General Strike, to perform agit-prop theatre with his lover Will Geer. During one of their performances, bullets rang out as the National Guard opened fire on the workers. Several workers were killed in that melee, but more would be killed before the government’s crack down on the strike ended. The strike culminated with a funeral march on Market Street, San Francisco’s main street, which was the largest public demonstration to take place in its day.[3]


Harry Hay at the 1986 L.A. Gay Pride Parade

In 1938 Hay married the late Anita Platky, also a Communist Party USA member. The couple were stalwarts of the Los Angeles Left; Hay taught at the California Labor School and worked on domestic campaigns such as campaigning for Ed Roybal, the first Latino elected in Los Angeles. The Hays occasionally hosted Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie when they performed in Los Angeles, and Hay demonstrated with Josephine Baker in 1945 over the Jim Crow policy of a local restaurant. When Hay went public with the Mattachine Society in 1951, the Hays divorced. After a burst of activity lasting three years, the growing Mattachine rejected Hay as a liability due to his Communist beliefs.

In 1955, when he was called before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, he had trouble finding a progressive attorney to represent him, he felt, due to homophobia on the Left.[2]

Mattachine Society

In 1950, Hay founded a state-registered foundation and secret network of support groups for gays known as the Mattachine Society.

Hay's first organizational conception was a group he called Bachelors Anonymous, formed to both support and leverage the 1948 presidential candidacy of Progressive Party leader Henry Wallace. Hay wrote and discreetly circulated a prospectus calling for "the androgynous minority" to organize as a political entity. Hay's call for an "international bachelor's fraternal order for peace and social dignity" did not take off until 1950. That year, Hay's = affair with Viennese immigrant Rudi Gernreich, (whose fashion designs eventually made him a TIME cover-man) brought Hay into gay circles "where a critical mass of daring souls could be found to begin sustained meetings".

On November 11, 1950, at Hay's home in the Silver Lake district of Los Angeles, a group of gay men met which became the Mattachine Society. Of the original Mattachine founders, Chuck Rowland, Bob Hull, Dale Jennings pre-deceased Hay; Konrad Stevens and John Gruber are the last surviving members of the founding group.

"Mattachine" took its name from a group of medieval dancers who appeared publicly only in mask. Hay devised its secret cell structure (based on the Masonic order) to protect individual gays and the nascent gay network. Officially co-gender, the group was largely male; the Daughters of Bilitis, the pioneering lesbian organization, formed independently in San Francisco in 1956.[2]

Though some criticized the Mattachine movement as insular, it grew to include thousands of members in dozens of chapters, which formed from Berkeley to Buffalo, and created a lasting national framework for gay organizing. Mattachine laid the ground for rapid civil rights gains following 1969's Stonewall riots in New York City.

Un-American Activities Committee

Hay appearing before HUAC, 1955


Hay is listed in histories of the American gay movement as first in applying the term "minority" to homosexuals. An uncompromising radical, he easily dismissed "the heteros," and never rested from challenging the status quo, including within the gay community. Due to the pervasive homophobia of his times (it was illegal for more than two homosexuals to congregate in California during the 1950s) Hay and his colleagues took an oath of anonymity that lasted a quarter century until Jonathan Ned Katz interviewed Hay for the ground-breaking book Gay American History.

Hay worked in Women Strike for Peace during the Viet Nam War as a "conscious strategy to build coalition between gay and feminist progressives". He also worked closely with Native American activists, especially the Committee for Traditional Indian Land and Life.

Hay was a local founder of the Lavender Caucus of Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition during the early 1980s, "determined to help convince the gay community that its political success was inextricably tied to a broader progressive agenda".[2]


For most of his life Hay lived in Los Angeles. However, during the early 1940s, Hay and his wife lived in New York City; he returned there with John Burnside to march and speak at the Stonewall 25 celebration in 1994. During the 1970s, he and Burnside moved to New Mexico, where he ran the trading post at San Juan Pueblo Indian reservation.[2]

Gay theory

Hay formulated his own gay-centered political philosophy- a theory of "gay consciousness" which placed variant thinking as the most significant trait in homosexuals. "We differ most from heterosexuals in how we perceive the world. That ability to offer insights and solutions is our contribution to humanity, and why our people keep reappearing over the millennia," he often stressed. Hay's occasional exhortations that gays should "maximize the differences" between themselves and heterosexuals remained controversial.[2]

Radical Faeries

In 1979, Hay was also a co-founder, with Don Kilhefner of the Radical Faeries, a movement affirming gayness as a "form of spiritual calling".

This pagan-inspired group continues internationally based on the principal that the consciousness of gays differs from that of heterosexuals. Hay believed that this different way of seeing constituted the contribution gays made to society, and was indeed the reason for their continued presence throughout history. Despite his often-combative nature, Hay became an increasingly beloved figure to younger generations of gay activists. He was often referred to as the "Father of Gay Liberation".[2]

Support for Pedophilia

In 1983, at a New York University forum, sponsored by an on-campus gay organization, Hay spoke alongside John Burnside, Katherine Davenport and Michael J. Lavery. At the forum he commented:

"If the parents and friends of gays are truly friends of gays, they would know from their gay kids that the relationship with an older man is precisely what thirteen-, fourteen-, and fifteen-year-old kids need more than anything else in the world."[4]

Speaking at a NAMBLA conference on Oct. 7, 1984, Hay recounted an experience from his childhood:

"So I’m about twelve years old and I swim very well at this point—very good swimming underwater and various other things. And so I don’t go into the kids’ pool, I go in the big pool. And I had this experience probably five or six times. Some man comes up to me, wants me to see how long he can stay underwater. And it’s important for me to understand just how long he stays underwater. He’s going to go way down to the other end of the pool and he’s going to come up between my legs and he’s going to come out the other end. So he goes down to the other side, he swims through my legs, and he [does?] my cock out of my bathing suit and he caresses it a couple of times and comes out the other end. And then he is going to come back. So he comes back through again, and this time spends a little more time."

Commenting about this experience Hay acknowledged that he was "being played with", and stated that it was "very pleasurable indeed". Hay stated that this event was a case of manipulation, but that he was not being molested. He declined to state that the man's actions had been offensive or immoral. At the conference Hay also spoke of his experience as a fourteen-year-old meeting a twenty-five-year-old man [Matt] with whom he "felt that I was trusted with love".[5] Speaking at New York University in 1983 at a forum co-sponsored by the NYU gay group and the Stop the Witchhunt Committee, Hay made reference to Matt, commenting, "I send to all of you my love and deep affection for what you offer to the boys, in honor of this boy when he was fourteen, and when he needed to know best of all what only another gay man could show him and tell him". He also stated that Matt had "handled" him.[6] Further details of the relationship are not known.

NAMBLA Support & Involvement

NAMBLA Bulletin, 2002

On October 7, 1984 Harry Hay spoke at a NAMBLA conference on the topic of "Man/Boy Love and Sexual Liberation". The conference was held at the Pride Center in San Francisco.[5]

In 1985, Hay wrote a promotional blurb for a NAMBLA book entitled "A Witchhunt Foiled: The FBI vs. NAMBLA".[4] Concluding his comments, he wrote:

"Thank you, NAMBLA, for giving me the space to express my appreciation for your travail."[7]

In 1986 Hay was confronted by police when he attempted to march in the Los Angeles pride parade, from which the North American Man/Boy Love Association had been banned, with a sign reading "NAMBLA walks with me."[8]

In 2002 the NAMBLA Bulletin featured a photo of Harry Hay marching alongside lover John Burnside and Jim Kepner in the Spirit of Stonewall demonstration which took place in New York in 1994. The photograph was in honor of Hay's life, with the obituary notice below the photograph reading, "Harry Hay - 1912 - 2002".

Bob Hamer is an ex-FBI agent who infiltrated NAMBLA in 1981. On October 8, 2009 Hamer appeared in an interview with Hannity on Fox News, during which he mentioned Hay's involvement with NAMBLA:

Harry Hay is a long-time radical, he is sort of a NAMBLA icon - if NAMBLA had a hall of fame, he would be in it. In fact, in their 2002, when Harry Hay died, he was on the cover of their magazine, the NAMBLA Bulletin. Harry Hay spoke at NAMBLA conferences, he marched with them when they were more public with participating in parades."[9]

CoC National Conference endorser

In 1992 Harry Hay, Radical Faeries Political Network, Los Angeles, endorsed the Committees of Correspondence national conference Conference on Perspectives for Democracy and Socialism in the 90s held at Berkeley California July 17-19.[10]

Conference on Perspectives for Democracy and Socialism in the 90s

The Conference on Perspectives for Democracy and Socialism in the 90s was the Committees of Correspondence's first national conference held in Berkeley, California July 17-19, 1992.[11]

Workshops that were held at the conference on Saturday, July 18 included:[12]

Gay/Lesbian Movement Building the left in the gay/lesbian movement and strengthening alliances in all the people's movements


In the mid 1990s Harry Hay was a contributing editor to Oakland based Institute for Social and Economic Studies- sponsor of CrossRoads magazine, which sought to promote dialogue and building new alliances among progressives and leftists... and to bring diverse Marxist and socialist traditions to bear while exploring new strategies and directions for the progressive political movements.[13]

Key supporters

Among the more illustrious supporters of CrossRoads were Gil Green, Harry Hay, Elizabeth Martinez, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, David McReynolds, Muhammed Ahmad [Max Stanford] and Peter Camejo.[14]


Template:Reflist Template:Endorsers of the Conference on Perspectives for Democracy and Socialism in the 90s