Harry Hay

64

Harry Hay : biography

07 April 1912 – 24 October 2002

Footnotes

Mattachine Society

Hay conceived of the idea of a homosexual activist group in 1948. After signing a petition for Progressive Party presidential candidate Henry A. Wallace, Hay spoke with other gay men at a party about forming a gay support organization for him called "Bachelors for Wallace". Encouraged by the response he received, Hay wrote out the organizing principles that night, a document he referred to as "The Call".Hay/Roscoe, p. 61 However, the men who had been interested at the party were less than enthused the following morning.Miller, p. 333 Over the next two years, Hay refined his idea, finally conceiving of an "international…fraternal order" to serve as "a service and welfare organization devoted to the protection and improvement of Society’s Androgynous Minority".Hay, quoted in Hay/Roscoe, p. 63 He planned to call this organization "Bachelors Anonymous" and envisioned it serving a similar function and purpose as Alcoholics Anonymous.Hay, quoted in Hay/Roscoe, p. 65 Hay met Rudi Gernreich in July 1950. The two became lovers,Hay and Gernreich were together until 1952, when Gernreich ended the relationship (Hay/Roscoe, pp. 359). and Hay showed Gernreich The Call. Gernreich, declaring the document "the most dangerous thing [he had] ever read", became an enthusiastic financial supporter of the venture, although he did not lend his name to itEhrenstein, p. 47 (going instead by the initial "R"D’Emilio, p. 62). Finally on November 11, 1950, Hay, along with Gernreich and friends Dale Jennings and lovers Bob Hull and Chuck Rowland, held the first meeting of the Mattachine Society in Los Angeles, under the name "Society of Fools".Hogan, et al., pp. 382–3 The group changed its name to "Mattachine Society" in April 1951, a name chosen by Hay at the suggestion of fellow Mattachine member James Gruber,Johansson and Percy, p. 92 based on Medieval French secret societies of masked men who, through their anonymity, were empowered to criticize ruling monarchs with impunity. As Hay became more involved in his Mattachine work, he correspondingly became more concerned that his homosexuality would negatively affect the Communist Party, which did not allow gays to be members. Hay himself approached Party leaders and recommended his own expulsion. The Party refused to expel Hay as a homosexual, instead expelling him as a "security risk" at the same time declaring him to be a "Lifelong Friend of the People".

Mattachine was originally organized in similar structure to the Communist Party, with cells, oaths of secrecy and five different levels of membership, each of which required greater levels of involvement and commitment. As the organization grew, the levels were expected to subdivide into new cells, creating the potential for both horizontal and vertical growth.D’Emilio, p. 64 The founding members constituted the so-called "Fifth Order" and from the outset remained anonymous. Mattachine’s membership grew slowly at first but received a major boost in February 1952 when founder Jennings was arrested in a Los Angeles park and charged with lewd behavior. Often, men in Jennings’ situation would simply plead guilty to the charge and hope to quietly rebuild their lives. Jennings and the rest of the Fifth Order saw the charges as a means to address the issue of police entrapment of homosexual men. The group began publicizing the case (under the name "Citizens Committee to Outlaw Entrapment") and the publicity it generated brought in financial support and volunteers. Jennings admitted during his trial to being a homosexual but insisted he was not guilty of the specific charge. The jury deadlocked (11-1 in favor of acquittal) and Mattachine declared victory.D’Emilio, pp. 69–70

Following the Jennings trial, the group expanded rapidly, with founders estimating membership in California by May 1953 at over 2,000 with as many as 100 people joining a typical discussion group. Membership diversified, with more women and people from a broader political spectrum becoming involved. With that growth came concern about the radical left slant of the organization. In particular, Hal Call and others out of San Francisco along with Ken Burns from Los Angeles wanted Mattachine to amend its constitution to clarify its opposition to so-called "subversive elements" and to affirm that members were loyal to the United States and its laws (which laws declared homosexuality illegal). In an effort to preserve their vision of the organization, the Fifth Order members revealed their identities and resigned their leadership positions at Mattachine’s May 1953 convention. With the founders gone, Call, Burns and other like-minded individuals stepped into the leadership void,Loughery, pp. 228–29 and Mattachine officially adopted non-confrontation as an organizational policy. The reduced effectiveness of this newly-organized Mattachine led to a precipitous drop in membership and participation.Hogan, et al., p. 383 The Los Angeles branch of Mattachine shut down in 1961.