Harry Hay


Harry Hay : biography

07 April 1912 – 24 October 2002

In 1922, Hay joined a boys’ club called the Western Rangers. Through the Rangers, Hay was first exposed to Native American spirituality when he witnessed members of the Hopi tribe performing rituals and, later, performing traditional dances for the group.

In 1923, at age 11, Hay first realized that there were others who had the same sorts of feelings for other boys as he did, when he discovered a copy of Edward Carpenter’s book The Intermediate Sex. Sneaking a look at the volume at the public library, Hay encountered for the first time the word homosexual. He looked it up in a dictionary, where it was not listed. Still, he somehow realized that this word applied to him, and the volume listed several people who shared his feelings. "As soon as I saw it, I knew it was me," Hay said. "So I wasn’t the only one of my kind in the whole world, and we weren’t necessarily weird or freaks or perverted… the book… even named some who believed in comradeship and being everything to each other. Maybe, someday, I could… meet another one."Hay, quoted in Timmons, p. 28

Hay spent summers growing up working on cattle ranches, where he was introduced to the tenets of Marxism by fellow ranch hands who were members of the Industrial Workers of the World ("Wobblies"). They taught him Marxist philosophy and gave him books and pamphlets written by Karl Marx.Timmons, p. 32 He learned of men having sex with other men, through stories passed around by ranch hands, telling him of violent assaults on miners who attempted to touch men with whom they shared quarters.Timmons, p. 33

In 1925, Hay attended a feast day celebration at the invitation of a Native American co-worker, where he met the Ghost Dance prophet Wovoka. Wovoka blessed Hay, saying that Hay would one day be a great friend to the Native American people.Shively, from Bronski, p. 173Hay’s family had a bloody connection to Wovoka and the Ghost Dance movement. In 1890, a misinterpretation of the Ghost Dance ritual as a war dance by Indian agents led to the Wounded Knee Massacre. Hay’s great-uncle, Francis Hardie, carried the Third Cavalry flag at Wounded Knee. (Timmons, p. 7) Hay took his union card to a hiring hall in San Francisco, convinced the union officials he was 21, and got a job on a cargo ship. In 1926, after an unloading at Monterey Bay, he met and had sex with a sailor named Matt. Through Matt, a decade his senior,Hogan, et al., p. 275 he was introduced to the concept of homosexual men as a world-wide "secret brotherhood".Timmons, p. 35 Hay would later build on this idea, in combination with a Stalinist definition of nationalist identity, to argue that homosexuals constituted a "cultural minority".Joseph Stalin stated in Marxism and the National Question that a nation is "a historically-evolved, stable community of language, territory, economic life and psychological make-up manifested in a community of culture" (Stalin, quoted in Hay/Roscoe, p. 41). Hay asserted that homosexuals manifested two of the four criteria, language and a shared psychological make-up, and thus qualified as a cultural minority (Hay/Roscoe, p. 43).

After Mattachine

Following the end of his involvement with Mattachine, Hay became largely disillusioned with the homosexual political scene and withdrew. Hay had become involved with a young Danish immigrant named Jorn Kamgren in 1952, several months before severing ties with Mattachine. Kamgren was a milliner. Hay helped him establish a hat shop, attempting to use his contacts within the fashion and entertainment industries to get exposure for Kamgren’s work and meeting with moderate success. Hay’s time with Kamgren was not particularly happy, although Hay’s mother Margaret liked Kamgren and encouraged Hay to remain with him (even going so far as to invest some $25,000 into the hat business). Hay spent much of his time studying Native American society and culture, in particular the Two-Spirit or berdache and their roles in native societies. Hay’s studies in this area led him into further areas of historical research, in which he searched for any evidence or indication of homosexuals and the societal and cultural roles that they played.