Queer: October 2002 Archives

Michael Bronski has written a sharp essay on the real Harry Hay and his "uneasy relationship with the gay movement."

Hay believed that "queer sexuality had an essential outsider quality that made the outcast homosexual the perfect prophet for a heterosexual world lost in strict gender roles, enforced reproductive sexuality, and numbingly straitjacketed social personae."

During [the seventies], Hay spoke out against what he saw as the increasing conservatism of the gay-and-lesbian movement. As he saw it, the gay — and now, lesbian — movement was far more interested in electing homosexuals to government positions than in making the government responsible to the needs of its people. It was more interested in making sure that gay people were represented in commercial television and films than in critiquing the ways mass culture destroyed the human spirit. It was too interested in making strategic alliances with conservative politicians, rather than exposing how most politicians were working hand in glove with bloodless, destructive corporations.
After he founded the Radical Faeries in 1979 ("something of a cross between born-again queers and in-your-face frontline shock troops practicing gender-fuck drag"), the movement as a whole treated him as a "benign crackpot," when it did not ignore him altogether. Gays, no less than all other Americans, could stomach his long history of involvement with the American Communist Party and political radicalism in general, but he seemed to irritate everyone with his persistent support of the right of the North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) to be represented in the movement.
Even many of Hay’s more dedicated supporters could not side with him on this. But from Hay’s point of view, silencing any part of the movement because it was disliked or hated by mainstream culture was both a moral failing and a seriously mistaken political strategy. In Harry’s eyes, such a stance failed to grapple seriously with the reality that there would always be some aspect of the gay movement to which mainstream culture would object.


In death, though, Harry Hay’s critics have finally been able to do what they couldn’t do when he was alive: make him presentable [witness the laudatory press releases and eulogies even from the institutions most antithetical to his life's work]. . . . But it’s important to remember Hay — with all his contradictions, his sometimes crackpot notions, and his radiant, ecstatic, vision of the holiness of being queer — as he lived. For in his death, Harry Hay is becoming everything he would have raged against.

Richard Goldstein made it onto the NYTimes Op-Ed page again today, this time using Harry Hay's death to remind us all of the American blackout of queer history.

Why are the gay movement's roots so obscured? The reason is the invisibility of gay history. With rare exceptions, schools fail to acknowledge that there even is such a thing. Only university students who opt for elective courses — if they are offered — learn that, in the 1920's, gay liberation was an important part of Emma Goldman's radical agenda. You won't find that mentioned in the film "Reds," in which Goldman was a prominent character. Nor can you deduce from "Cabaret" (film or play) that gay people in the Weimar Republic did more than patronize kinky nightclubs. The gay community was a very visible part of Berlin's political landscape, and its leader Magnus Hirschfeld was an emblem of the liberal society that the Nazis smashed. The famous photo of storm troopers burning books is widely thought to have been taken at Mr. Hirschfeld's library.

Harry Hay died today.


Henry "Harry" Hay, known as the founder of the modern American gay movement, has died at age 90. The pioneering gay activist devoted his life to progressive politics and in 1950, he founded a state-registered foundation and secret network of support groups for gays known as the Mattachine Society. He 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 had been diagnosed weeks earlier with lung cancer. Despite his illness, he remained lucid and died peacefully in his sleep in the early hours of October 24.

"Harry Hay's determined, visionary activism significantly lifted gays out of oppression," said Stuart Timmons, who published a biography of Hay in 1990."All gay people continue to benefit from his fierce affirmation of gays as a people."

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. 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.

Previous attempts to create gay organizations in the United States had fizzled - or been stamped out. 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 bear results until 1950. That year, his love 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, 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 laid the ground for rapid civil rights gains following 1969's 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 took Hay to the San Francisco General Strike of 1935, and indoctrinated him into the American Communist Party. Haybecame an active trade unionist. A blend of Marxist analysis andstagecraft strongly influenced Hay's 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 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 recalled demonstrating with Josephine Baker in 1945 over the Jim Crow policy of a local restaurant. When he felt compelled to go 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. (He was ultimately dismissed after his curt testimony.) Hay felt exiled from the Left for nearly fifty years, until he received the Life Achievement award of a Los Angeles library preserving progressive movements.

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 lead 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. Hay's occasional exhortations that gays should "maximize the differences" between themselves and heterosexuals remained controversial. Academics tended to reject his ideas as much as they respected his historic stature.

A fixture at anti-draft and anti-war campaigns for sixty years, Hay worked in Women's 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. His decades of agitation for coalition politics brought him increasing appreciation in later life from labor and third-party groups.

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 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."

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.

This memorial was generously provided by Stuart Timmons, author of The Trouble With Harry Hay: Founder of the Modern Gay Movement (1990)

"I adored Harry because he remained radical and iconoclastic to the end. Take a moment and think what it must have been like all those decades ago--to cut a path where none existed. What nerve and vision! Each one of us who uses that path has a responsibilty to keep it clear, and to widen the path for those that follow."

Bill Dobbs

Wonderful photo

The photo credit and caption reads:

"One of the founders of the gay rights movement, Harry Hay, left, brushes the cheek of his partner John Burnside with his hand Friday, July 19, 2002, at their home in San Francisco."

NYTimes obituary

Geesh, these people must think we're all really stupid!

New York Republican neanderthals have finally decided to let the New York Senate vote on gay rights, but only in order to secure more votes for Republican candidates in November.

The Democratic candidate for governor said it best.

Asked about [Senate Majority Leader Joe] Bruno's promise, [Carl] McCall replied, "If that's true, these people really have no principles, do they?"

"For eight years, George Pataki has been promising it, Joe Bruno has been stopping it," said McCall, the state controller. "Now, what, two weeks before an election ... all of a sudden Joe Bruno and George Pataki come up with a little gimmick to try to buy off an endorsement? Most of the endorsements they have, they bought."

But we shouldn't get too excited yet, since they are telling us that the vote will come after the November elections.

What an amazing world! And what an amazing city! (Paris, this time) In an earlier post I described Bertrand Delanoe, the Mayor of Paris, as queer, green and a socialist, and nothing much was yet know about the man who stabbed him on sunday. Today I read, in the Daily News, that the Mayor is muslim, as is his alleged assailant, who is said to have told police he doesn't like politicians, and especially doesn't like homosexuals [it's more than probable that he used some other noun when speaking to the police].

The queer green socialist Mayor of Paris [just try using those adjectives anywhere in this country to describe a town executive!] was stabbed, apparently by a deranged man, in the midst of the all-night party he had given to the City of Light. But Delanoe, a Socialist elected last year, insisted to aides while he lay bleeding on the parquet floor that the French capital's festival continue until dawn.

"He told me the Nuit Blanche should continue unchanged and not to dramatize what had happened," [Deputy Mayor Christophe Girard] told journalists. "He was completely conscious and determined that an isolated incident should not affect what was supposed to be a nice festival of Paris for the Parisians."
.... Officials said Delanoe, a soft-spoken man with a grass-roots image, had wanted City Hall as open as possible. "There was no checking at the door," one woman at the party told French radio.
Pshew! What a guy. But we do know how to party. And I do mean socialists, greens and queers!
The ornate City Hall, decorated as a 1930s nightclub with soft lounge music, was such a popular feature of the "Nuit Blanche" festival that many people could not get in during the evening. Some outside chanted "Bertrand, Bertrand!"

The Louvre museum, Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe and other city landmarks were open for free visits all night. Jazz and reggae bands played at bistros and Vietnamese models put on a fashion show at the historic Palais Royal.

One glass facade of the National Library was turned into a giant interactive light show that passers-by could operate by sending messages with their mobile telephones.

During the summer, Delanoe's "Paris Plage"(Paris Beach) brought sand, potted palms and beach sports to the highway along the Seine River. He wants to repeat both festivals next year.

But Delanoe, who with his Greens partners wants to make the city more livable, has also angered small businessmen and taxi drivers by creating bus lanes to cut down traffic congestion.

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