>>>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 set the stage for rapid civil rights gains following 1969s Stonewall riots in New York City.<<<
Pioneer, coalition-builder and radical faerie
Henry Harry Hay, the founder of the modern American gay movement, died on October 24, 2002 at age 90. He had been diagnosed weeks earlier with lung cancer. Despite his illness, he remained lucid to the end and died peacefully in his sleep at his home in San Francisco.
Harry Hays determined, visionary activism significantly lifted gays out of op-pression, said Stuart
Timmons, who published a biography of Hay, called The Trouble with Harry Hay, in 1990. All gay people continue to benefit from his fierce affirmation of gays as a people.
Hay devoted his entire life to progressive politics, and in 1950 founded a state-registered foundation network of support groups for gays known as the Mattachine Society.
Hay was also a co-founder, in 1979, of the Radical Faeries, a movement affirming gayness as a form of spiritual calling. A rare link between gay and progressive politics, Hay and his partner of 39 years, John Burnside, had lived in San Francisco for three years after a lifetime in Los Angeles. Hay is listed in histories of the American gay movement as the first person to apply 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.
Harry was one of the first to realize that the dream of equality for our community could be attained through visibility and activism, said David M. Smith of the Human Rights Campaign in Washington, DC. When you were in a room with him, you had the sense you were in the company of a historic figure.
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, published in 1976. Countless researchers subsequently sought him out. In recent years, Hay became the subject of a biography, a PBS-funded documentary, and an anthology of his own writings called Radically Gay: Gay Liberation in the Words of Its Founder.
Before the establishment of the Mattachine Society, attempts to create gay organizations in the United States had fizzled or been stamped out. Hays 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.
Hays call for an international bachelors fraternal order for peace and social dignity did not bear results until 1950. That year, his love affair with Viennese immigrant Rudi Gernreich (whose fashion designs eventually earned him a place on the cover of Time magazine), brought Hay into gay circles where a critical mass of daring souls could be found to begin sustained meetings. On November 11, 1950, at Hays 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, and 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, a device well understood by homosexuals of the 1950s. 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.
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 set the stage for rapid civil rights gains following 1969s Stonewall riots in New York City.
Harry Hay was born in England in 1912, the day the Titanic sank. 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, he briefly attended Stanford, but dropped out and returned to Los Angeles. He understood from childhood that he was a sissy -- different in behavior from boys or girls -- and also that he was attracted to men. His same-sex affairs began when he was a teenager, not long after he began reading 19th century scholar Edward Carpenter, whose essays on homogenic love strongly influenced his thinking.
A tall and muscular young man, Hay worked as both an extra and ghostwriter in 1930s Hollywood. He developed a passion for theater, and performed on Los Angeles stages with Anthony Quinn in the 1930s, and with Will Geer, who became his lover. Geer (who later generations grew to love as Grandpa Walton on the TV series The Waltons), took Hay to the San Francisco General Strike of 1934, and indoctrinated him into the American Communist Party. Hay became an active trade unionist. A blend of Marxist analysis and stagecraft strongly influenced his later gay organizing.
Despite a decade of gay life, in 1938 Hay married the late Anita Platky, also a Communist Party member. The couple were stalwarts of the Los Angeles Left. Hay taught at the California Labor School and worked on domestic campaigns like that for Ed Roybal, the first Latino elected in Los Angeles. The Hayses occasionally hosted Pete Seeger when he performed in Los Angeles, and Hay recalled demonstrating with Josephine Baker in 1945 over the Jim Crow segregation policy of a local restaurant. When he felt compelled to go public with the Mattachine Society in 1951, Hay and his wife 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 Un-American Activities Committee, he had trouble finding a progressive attorney to represent him. He felt this was due to homophobia on the Left. (He was ultimately dismissed after his curt, brief testimony was deemed unimportant.) Hay felt exiled from the Left for nearly fifty years, until he received the Life Achievement Award of a Los Angeles library preserving the history and artifacts of progressive movements.
A second wind of activism came in 1979 when Hay founded, with Don Kilhefner, a spiritual movement known as the Radical Faeries. This pagan-inspired group continues internationally based on the principle that the consciousness of gays differs from that of heterosexuals. Hay believed that this different way of seeing constituted the greatest contribution gays made to society, and was indeed the reason for their continued presence throughout history.
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.
His years of research for gay references in history and anthropology texts led Hay to formulate his own gay-centered political philosophy, which he wrote and spoke about constantly. His theory of gay consciousness 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.
Hays occasional exhortations that gays should maximize the differences between themselves and heterosexuals remained controversial. Some academics and activists seeking full integration of gays and lesbians into straight society tended to reject his ideas while still respecting his historic stature.
A fixture at anti-draft and anti-war demonstrations for sixty years, Hay worked in Womens Strike for Peace during the Vietnam War as a conscious strategy to build a 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 Jacksons Rainbow Coalition during the early 1980s, and was determined to convince the gay community that its political success was inextricably tied to a broader progressive agenda.
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.
Hay is survived by Burnside as well as by his self-chosen gay family, a model he strongly advocated for lesbians and gays. His adopted daughters, Kate Berman and Hannah Muldaven, also survive him. A circle of Radical Faeries provided care for him and Burnside through their later years.
Harry Hay leaves behind a wide circle of friends and admirers among lesbians, gays, and progressive activists. Donations in his memory can be made to the San Francisco GLBT Community Center, 1800 Market Street, San Francisco CA 94102 (identify it for the Harry and John Founders Wall plaque), or to the One Institute and Archives, 909 West Adams Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90007.
[This obituary was prepared by Stuart Timmons, Hays official biographer, historian Martin Duberman, Joey Cain of the San Francisco GLBT Pride Parade, and Harry Hays niece, Sally Hay. IN Steps Jamakaya also contributed to the story.]