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Hay's idea was so radical that it took him more than two years to find four other men willing to organize this new movement with him.


Harry Hay, left, with his partner, John Burnside. At their home, San Francisco, CA, July 19, 2002. Ben Margot

Harry Hay: The Father Of Us All

by Ana Simo

OCTOBER 26, 2002. One summer night in Los Angeles, in 1948, Harry Hay thought a terse and simple thought that would change the world: homosexuals were an oppressed cultural minority. Not a bunch of degenerate or sick or misguided individuals, but a minority, just like blacks. Homosexuals should, therefore, have their own civil rights movement.

Hay's idea was so radical that it took him more than two years to find four other men willing to organize this new movement with him.

Hay, whose background included membership in the American Communist Party and labor organizing, recalled last year: "When I first proposed to them that henceforth we see ourselves as the organizing committee of a viciously oppressed cultural minority, they first gasped and then suddenly lit up like the shooting stars of fireworks on the Fourth of July. It was wonderful. For the first time they were hearing positive words about themselves, and it had an electric effect on them just as it had on me two years before. My words had shifted their world reality forever. The right words at last were doing just what right words have always done in the old fairy stories."

The semi-clandestine Mattachine Society, which they founded in 1950, was the first gay political organization in the United States. It paved the way for the gay liberation explosion triggered by the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York, which continues to reverberate throughout the world.

During the height of the Red Scare in the 1950's, Hay was forced out from the Mattachine Society for his Communist activity. At about the same time, he was also expelled from the Communist Party as a homosexual when he was divorced. He went on to found the Radical Faeries, and participate in decades of civil rights work, as well as in antidraft and antiwar campaigns during the Viet Nam war.

Harry Hay died early Thurday morning in San Francisco. He was 90. He is survived by John Burnside, his partner of 40 years, and Kate Berman and Hanna Muldaven, his daughters from his previous marriage.

Related links:

For more about the Mattachine Society.

For Paul Varnell's "The Threat of Assimilation," with a critical view of Hay's recent ideas.

For Complete Coverage Gay Mundo

Gay Mundo
gay pride The Gully's ultragay coverage. Includes musings on activism, info on queers from Puerto Rico to Taiwan and more.

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