Harry Hay


Harry Hay : biography

07 April 1912 – 24 October 2002

In 1955, Hay was called to testify before a subcommittee of the House Un-American Activities Committee that was investigating Communist activity in Southern California. Hay had been identified before the subcommittee as a Communist, which was particularly interested in Marxist teachers like Hay. Hay struggled to find legal representation, feared losing his job and worried that his sexuality would be used to smear the Party. Ultimately his appearance, on July 2 of that year, was brief; he was asked if he was currently a member of the Party, to which he could truthfully answer "no". A committee member angrily asked when he had quit the Party to which Hay replied that he did not "confide in stool pigeons or their buddies on this committee". Amid gales of laughter from the audience, Hay was dismissed.Timmons, p. 189

Hay maintained some contact with activists, including Jim Kepner of ONE, Inc., and continued his social contacts in the homophile community through ONE events. After 11 years with Kamgren, Hay moved out of their house and ended the relationship. Hay and Kepner had a brief affair in 1963, then Hay met inventor John Burnside through a ONE event, who became his life partner. Together the two created a group called the Circle of Loving Friends (although Hay and Burnside were frequently the only members of the circle). As the Circle they participated in early homophile demonstrations throughout the 1960s and helped establish the North American Conference of Homophile Organizations (NACHO) in 1966.Shively, from Bronski, p. 175 Following the Stonewall riots, the couple helped organize a Gay Liberation Front chapter in Los Angeles and Hay was elected its first chair.Hay/Roscoe, p. 361

Death and legacy

Hay and Burnside returned to San Francisco in 1999 after concluding that Hay was not receiving proper care in Los Angeles for his serious health concerns, including pneumonia and lung cancer. He served as the grand marshal of the San Francisco gay pride parade that same year. While in hospice care Hay died of lung cancer on October 24, 2002 at age 90.

Hay was the subject of Eric Slade’s documentary film Hope Along the Wind: The Life of Harry Hay (2002). He also appeared in other documentaries, such as Word Is Out (1978), in which he appeared with his partner Burnside. In 1967, Hay and Burnside had appeared as a couple on Joe Pyne’s syndicated television show.

Hay, along with Gernreich, is one of the main characters of the play The Temperamentals by Jon Marans with Thomas Jay Ryan playing Hay and Michael Urie as Gernreich; after workshop performances in 2009 the play opened off Broadway in 2010.

On June 1, 2011, the Silver Lake, Los Angeles Neighborhood Council voted unanimously to rename the Cove Avenue Stairway in Silver Lake in honor of Hay.

College, acting and politicization

Hay graduated from Los Angeles High School in 1929 and went to work at a law firm. At around this time he discovered the cruising scene in Pershing Square, where he met a man who told him about the Society for Human Rights, a homosexual rights group that had existed briefly in Chicago in the 1920sLoughery, p. 225 (although Hay would later deny that he had any knowledge of previous LGBT activismGay Almanac, p. 131). In 1930 Hay enrolled in Stanford University, and in 1931 he came out as "temperamental" (then a code word for "homosexual") to friends and classmates. A severe sinus infection led Hay to drop out in 1932 and he was financially unable to return to college.

Relocating to San Francisco, Hay quickly fell in with the city’s theatrical and artistic circles.Stryker, et al., p. 26 He relocated again, to Hollywood, finding work as a stunt rider in B movies.Hay/Roscoe, p. 356 Unable to secure steady employment in films, Hay joined an agitprop theatre group that entertained at strikes and demonstrations. Many of his associates in the theatre group were members of the Communist Party and Hay joined the Party in 1934.D’Emilio, p. 59 From the time he joined the Party until leaving it in the early 1950s, Hay taught courses in subjects ranging from Marxist theory to folk music at the "People’s Educational Center" in Hollywood and later throughout the Los Angeles area.Timmons, pp. 120—21

Also in 1934, Hay joined the cast of the Tony Pastor Theatre. There he met and became lovers with fellow actor Will Geer, whom Hay credited as his political mentor.John Gallagher, "Harry Hay’s Legacy" (obituary) The Advocate, 26 November 2002; pp. 15; No. 877; ISSN 0001-8996 Hay and Geer participated in a milk strike in Los Angeles, where Hay was first exposed to radical gay activism in the person of "Clarabelle", a drag queen who held court in the Bunker Hill neighborhood, who hid Hay from police. Later that year, Hay and Geer performed in support of the San Francisco General Strike. Hay witnessed police firing on demonstrators and this cemented his commitment to social change.

Hay, along with Roger Barlow and LeRoy Robbins, directed a short film Even As You and I (1937) featuring Hay, Barlow, and filmmaker Hy Hirsh.

Hay began Jungian analysis in 1937. He was, he later said, "misled" by his psychiatrist, who suggested that Hay find himself a "boyish girl". In 1938, Hay confided to his fellow Party members that he was homosexual. Like his therapist, they encouraged him not to act on his feelings and suggested that he get married. He did, later that same year, to Party member Anna Platky.Hogan, et al., p. 273 The couple adopted two daughters, Hannah Margaret in 1943Hay/Roscoe, p. 357 and Kate Neall in 1945.Hay/Roscoe, p. 358 Hay realized by 1941 that his therapist had been wrong and that he was not going to become heterosexual through marriage. He continued having relationships with men throughout his marriage and the couple divorced in 1951.Hay/Roscoe, p. 359