Harry Hay

Harry Hay bigraphy, stories - Activists

Harry Hay : biography

07 April 1912 – 24 October 2002

Henry "Harry" Hay, Jr. (April 7, 1912 – October 24, 2002) was an English-born American labor advocate, teacher and early leader in the American LGBT rights movement. He is known for his roles in helping to found several gay organizations, including the Mattachine Society, the first sustained gay rights group in the United States.

Hay was exposed early in life to the principles of Marxism and to the idea of same-sex sexual attraction. He drew upon these experiences to develop his view of homosexuals as a cultural minority. A longtime member of the Communist Party USA, Hay’s Marxist history led to his resignation from the Mattachine leadership in 1953. Hay’s involvement in the gay movement became more informal after that, although he did co-found the Los Angeles chapter of the Gay Liberation Front in 1969. Following a move to New Mexico with his longtime companion John Burnside in 1970, Hay’s ongoing interest in Native American spirituality led the couple to co-found the Radical Faeries.

Hay’s belief in the cultural minority status of homosexuals led him to take a stand against assimilationism. This stance led him to offer public support to controversial groups like the North American Man/Boy Love Association and to criticize both the mainstream gay rights movement and some of the movement’s radical components, including the AIDS activist group ACT UP.

Hay died on October 24, 2002, following a series of illnesses.


As he had throughout his life of activism, Hay continued to oppose what he perceived as harmful assimilationist attitudes within the gay community. "We pulled ugly green frog skin of heterosexual conformity over us, and that’s how we got through school with a full set of teeth," Hay once explained. "We know how to live through their eyes. We can always play their games, but are we denying ourselves by doing this? If you’re going to carry the skin of conformity over you, you are going to suppress the beautiful prince or princess within you." Having rooted his political philosophy from the founding of Mattachine in the belief that homosexuals constituted a cultural minority, Hay was wary of discarding the unique attributes of that minority in favor of adopting the cultural traits of the majority for the purpose of societal acceptance. Having witnessed the move of Mattachine away from its founding Marxist activist principles and having seen the gay community marginalize drag queens and leather enthusiasts through the first decade of the post-Stonewall gay movement, Hay opposed what he believed were efforts to move other groups to the margins as the gay rights movement progressed.

In the early 1980s, Hay joined other early gay rights activists protesting the exclusion of the North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) from participation in LGBT social movements, most noticeably pride parades on the grounds that such exclusions constituted a betrayal by the gay community. In 1983, at a New York University forum, sponsored by an on-campus gay organization, he remarked "[I]f 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." In 1986 Hay was confronted by police when he attempted to march in the Los Angeles pride parade, from which NAMBLA had been banned, with a sign reading "NAMBLA walks with me."Hay’s protest walk was also in support of Valerie Terrigno, the lesbian former mayor of West Hollywood whom the parade committee had also barred from marching after a political scandal. (Timmons, p. 296) Hay refused to participate in the official 1994 parade in New York City commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall riots because of its exclusionary policies. Instead he joined an alternate parade called "The Spirit of Stonewall".

Hay’s opposition to assimilation extended to groups like ACT UP. Hay believed that the confrontational tactics favored by the AIDS activist group were rooted in the typical machismo of straight men. By adopting these tactics and attitudes, ACT UP was shrinking the space available for diversity of gender roles for gay men, with the gentle and the effeminate discarded in their favor.Loughery, p. 441 As late as 2000 Hay continued to speak out against assimilation, saying, "The assimilationist movement is running us into the ground."