Today I would like to honor and celebrate the late Harry Hay. Hay, whom many consider the founder of the Gay Rights movement died in October of 2002. Hay understood intersectionality, as he advocated not only for LGBT rights, but also for the Labor movement, and for Native American civil rights. Hay founded the Mattachine Society, a leftist gay liberation organization which worked for the civil rights of homosexuals during the 1950s. The Mattachine Society was tied to the Community Party during the age of McCarthyism here in the United States, which made it difficult to secure consistent leadership. Many members left the society in fear of the dire actions being carried out by McCarthy’s henchmen.
Unlike other gay liberation movements, Hay strongly resisted the move towards assimilation. Like many gay men, Hay succumbed to societal pressure to deny his identity and try to adopt the identity of being heterosexual. This attempt led him to marrying Anita Platky. The couple adopted two children and later divorced, for Hay could no longer manage the pretense of being heterosexual. Sadly, 60 years later, we still see people engaging in heterosexual marriages due to the overwhelming societal pressure to be “straight.” Here is a perfect example of how the liberation of LGBT people is directly tied to the liberation of our heterosexual brothers and sisters and is connected to the liberation of other targeted populations. I know my own narrative and activism as a gay man helped to pave the way for my activism around other social justice issues, such as eradicating racism, misogyny, and poverty.
Hay’s first male partner was none other than the amazing civil rights leader Will Geer, whom many remember only for his role as the grandfather on the television show the Waltons. My husband and I loved Geer in the 1954 film adaptation of Salt of the Earth — not a trip to chuckle town, but a great film about social justice racism, and poverty.
Years later, Hay and his partner John Burnside would look to the Mattacine Society and Native American cultures that revered gays for inspiration to start the Radical Faeries in 1979. Today, I am aware of two Radical Faerie communes that still exist; one in Tennessee and one here in Oregon.
Harry Hay was a true pioneer — a bold speaker of his personal truth who demanded that everyone be afforded the right to live openly, honestly, and safely. Justly called the “Father of Gay Liberation,” he is a person to whom we all owe a continued debt today.