---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sat, 26 Oct 2002 13:50:34 -0700
From: radtimes <email@example.com>
Subject: Harry Hay, 90, Early Proponent of Gay Rights, Is Dead
Harry Hay, 90, Early Proponent of Gay Rights, Is Dead
By DUDLEY CLENDINEN
October 25, 2002
Harry Hay, who founded a secret organization six decades ago that
proved to be the catalyst for the American gay rights movement, died
early Thursday morning at his home in San Francisco. He was 90.
Although little known in the broader national culture over the years,
Mr. Hay's contribution was to do what no one else had done before:
plant the idea among American homosexuals that they formed an
oppressed cultural minority of their own, like blacks, and to create
a lasting organization in which homosexuals could come together to
socialize and to pursue what was, at the beginning, the very radical
concept of homosexual rights.
The group Mr. Hay founded - one that exists in remnants today - was
the Mattachine Society. Its name was taken from a medieval French
term for male dancers who performed in public, sometimes satirizing
social customs, but only wearing masks.
Starting in Los Angeles in 1950, Mr. Hay formed his secret society
with a handful of others. Virtually no men or women in the country
then identified themselves publicly as homosexual. The law in
California and other states made it illegal for homosexuals to
assemble in public. The American Psychiatric Association defined
homosexuality as a mental illness.
The term gay rights would not come into general use until 1969, after
the New York City police raided a gay bar called the Stonewall Inn in
Greenwich Village, and its patrons staged a violent uprising against
But by then, the political organizing and public expression of gay
consciousness begun by Mr. Hay was long established in many cities
across the country, and had matured for a generation.
In 1948, Mr. Hay was a restless, middle-aged man living with his wife
and two daughters when he was struck one August night by the idea for
a new kind of group. The impulse came out of a brew of other
identities and allegiances that mingled in him, all of them described
by his biographer, Stuart Timmons, in "The Trouble With Harry Hay:
Founder of the Modern Gay Movement" (Alyson Publications, 1990). 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. It was an array of
opposing values that would put him in a state of conflict and tension
for most of his life - and would cast him out of the Communist Party
and his own Mattachine Society before the 1950's were half over.
But that summer night in 1948, he would later tell interviewers, he
attended an all-male party in Los Angeles and fell into conversation
about the next presidential election.
Maybe former Vice President Henry Wallace, the Progressive Party
candidate, would include a sexual privacy plank in his platform in
exchange for votes and support from homosexuals, Mr. Hay suggested.
The others hooted at such a crazy idea. But later, while his wife and
children slept, Mr. Hay wrote the future movement's first political
manifesto. He raised the notion of homosexuals as an oppressed
minority. (It was an organizing principle that would not appear in
print until 1951, with the publication of "The Homosexual in
America," the first commercially published nonfiction account of
homosexual life in the United States written by a homosexual, though
under a pseudonym, Donald Webster Cory.)
The thoughts in Mr. Hay's manifesto, which he revised and which later
became known as "The Call," seem antique now. He labeled his unformed
group "Bachelors Anonymous," and was both grand and bland about its
purpose. "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 to
constructive social progress of mankind," he wrote.
It took him more than two years to find four other men willing to
discuss how they might organize. Two had also been members of the
Communist Party in the prewar years when Communism seemed an
attractive enemy of fascism. Another was Austrian, a Viennese refugee
from fascism named Rudi Gernreich, who would become famous as a
fashion designer, for miniskirts, the topless bathing suit and other
creations. The last was Dale Jennings, whose arrest the next year for
soliciting a police officer to commit a homosexual act gave the new
group its first cause.
It was a case of police entrapment, common in those years, but
instead of pleading no contest to avoid a public trial, as
homosexuals usually did, Mr. Jennings, at Mr. Hay's insistence, went
to trial with a lawyer hired by Mattachine, and swore that yes, he
was homosexual, but no, he had not solicited.
The jury acquitted him. With that victory, the Mattachine Society
grew, spreading chapters across the country. But as the cold war
deepened, the group, fearful of Mr. Hay's history in the Communist
Party, forced him out. The party, with which he had felt such class
kinship before the war, rejected him as a homosexual after he and his
wife, Anita, divorced, early in the 1950's. More than 20 years later,
still on the sidelines of the main gay movement, he cofounded another
kind of group, a brotherhood built along the lines of the spiritual
tribe that he always thought gay men naturally formed. He called it
The Radical Faeries.
Because Mr. Hay did not last long as the leader of the Mattachine
Society, because it was a secret society, and because his role in it
remained unknown until he talked about it to Jonathan Ned Katz for
his reference anthology "Gay American History," (Arno Press, 1975)
others became better known as leaders in the gay-rights movement and
carried on the public fight that Mr. Hay had begun.
After his expulsion from the society's leadership, Mr. Hay became a
fixture of West Coast progressive politics, of the antidraft and
antiwar campaigns, worked in the Women's Strike for Peace during the
Vietnam War, and with Native American activists, especially the
Committee for Traditional Indian Land and Life.
Harry Hay was born Henry Hay Jr. in England in 1912, and raised by
nannies. His father was a manager of gold and diamond mining in South
Africa for Cecil Rhodes, and of copper mining in Chile, before
settling the family in California.
He said he had his first homosexual sexual encounter at 14 while
shipping on a tramp steamer down the California coast. He attended
Stanford University, but did not graduate.
It was the actor Will Geer, who decades later played Grandpa Walton
on television, who introduced Mr. Hay to Communist organizing,
including the general union strike which closed the Port of San
Francisco in 1934.
When he realized that the Communist Party would not accept
homosexuals, he married a fellow Communist, Anita Platsky. They
adopted two daughters, who survive him: Kate Berman and Hannah
Muldaven, both of Los Angeles. He is also survived by his partner of
40 years, John Burnside, with whom he registered as a domestic
partner in California weeks before his death.
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