Hay, Harry

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1912-04-07
Death 2002-10-24

Biographical notes:

Biography

Henry (Harry) Hay Jr. was born in 1912 in Worthing, England, to American parents; his father, Henry Hay Sr., managed mining interests in South Africa, then in Chile. When an accident in 1916 ended the elder Hay's career, the affuent family moved to Los Angeles, where Harry Hay spent his youth. Hay attended Stanford University for two years, then dropped out in 1932 and sought work as an actor and screenwriter in Depression-era Los Angeles. Hay was drawn to the cooperative ideals and political activism of the communist party at this time, but distanced by its prohibition of homosexuality among members. In 1938 he married friend and party member Anita Platky in an effort to adapt to the social conditions of party membership; the couple moved to New York a year later. When the United States entered the Second World War they returned to Los Angeles, where Hay found work as an industrial engineer (materials manager) in the war-time aircraft industry.

After the war, Hay's communist party-related activities included teaching classes on the political significance of folk music with a group called People's Songs. Historical research for the class led to Hay's discovery of masked medieval European satirist-performers known as Matticinos. In 1948, the year of the Kinsey Report, a discussion at a party led Hay to write a proposal for a group that would act on the idea that homosexuals were an oppressed minority who must organize to secure their civil rights. Two years later Hay and four others founded the Mattachine Society, a semi-secret (or masked) organization grounded in discussion groups focusing on issues of interest to the homosexual community.

Harry Hay's commitment to Mattachine led to the end of his marriage in 1951; he resigned from the communist party the same year. Then at a Mattachine Society convention in 1953, Hay and his fellow co-founders were ousted from leadership positions due to the wider membership's discomfort with their leftist politics. After being called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee in Los Angeles in 1955, Hay retreated from public activism for a time. His focus shifted to research concerning the presence and social role of homosexual minorities in various cultures across history. Articles informed by this research appeared in publications of ONE Inc., whose members included founders of the Mattachine Society.

In 1963 Hay met John Burnside, an engineer and inventor who became his life partner. As the sometimes sole members of the Circle of Loving Companions, Hay and Burnside were active in the gay and Native American civil rights movements. In the early 1970s they moved to rural New Mexico. Toward the end of the decade Hay and Burnside were among the co-founders of the Radical Faeries, a "New Age tribal spiritual movement" that organized gay consciousness-building retreats in scenic natural settings. They returned to Los Angeles in 1979.

In the mid-1970s Hay participated in interviews with historians whose subsequent publications on the early gay-rights movement established Harry Hay as one of its central founding figures. Historian Stuart Timmon's well regarded biography, The Trouble with Harry Hay (1990), further enhanced Hay's stature as a gay-rights pioneer. The recognition contributed to Hay's popularity as a speaker on topics related to gay history and identity.

Harry Hay died in San Francisco in 2002.

Sources:

Timmons, Stuart. The Trouble with Harry Hay . Boston: Alyson Publications, 1990.

Harry Hay Papers, Coll2011-003, ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives, Los Angeles, California.

ONE Archives subject files, "Radical Faeries", ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives, Los Angeles, California.

From the guide to the Harry Hay papers, Bulk, 1950-1990, circa 1867-2002, (ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives)

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Subjects:

  • Gay activists--California--Los Angeles

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