HARRY HAYon MAN/BOY LOVE
by David Thorstad

The speeches that Harry Hay made at meetings in New York City, San Francisco, and Los Angeles in the 1980s and in New York in June 1994 during Stonewall 25, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Stonewall Riots that launched the modern-day gay liberation movement, are published here for the first time.

Harry, founder in 1950 of the first American gay group to survive, the Mattachine Society, cofounder of the Gay Liberation Front, Southern California chapter, in 1969, cofounder of the Radical Faeries in 1979, father of the U.S. gay movement, and grandfatherly icon of gay liberation, died on October 24, 2002, at the age of ninety.  Harry was a vocal and courageous supporter of NAMBLA and intergenerational sexual relationships, though since his death many of the assimilationists in the gay and lesbian movement, including its most prominent organizations, have already sought to erase that part of his radicalism (not to mention his Communist roots and vocal critiques of their own accommodationist approach to the powers that be).  In order to bring truth to the record, I have transcribed these comments.

I first met Harry in early 1983, at the time of the first of these speeches.  I was introduced to him and his lovely—I almost said saintly—companion, John Burnside, a lovable gay man if ever there was one, by lesbian activist, self-professed witch, and sometime weed partner Katherine Davenport, a mutual friend and journalist for the New York Native.  I knew about Harry’s past as a Communist and labor activist, as well as the central role he had played in efforts to launch a gay movement in the dreary, conformist 1950s—a time when homosexuality was still totally medicalized as a sickness or excoriated as a satanic perversion.  I also knew that he had developed a philosophy of same-sex love that seemed inspired by the writings of Edward Carpenter, though without the explicit “intermediate sex” or “third sex” baggage, yet retaining a hint of the idea that gay men were destined to lead society to a higher level of sexual freedom and social justice.

When I was president of New York’s Gay Activists Alliance in 1975, we received a letter from Harry from Taos, where he was then living, in which he expounded his ideas, with lots of capital letters and, to me, rather strange formulations.  I was excited, because I hadn’t realized that he was still alive, since he had remained largely silent so far as gay issues were concerned since he was driven out of Mattachine for his radicalism.  So when I met him in 1983, I prepared a lavish turkey dinner for him, John, and Katherine.

From then on, I considered him a friend.  I was lucky to have spent more time with him than I could have hoped for, yet far less than I would have liked—at Phil Willkie’s Wisconsin cabin and his St. Paul apartment; at the Stonewall 25 demonstration in New York in 1994, where Harry and John, as well as the late Jim Kepner (another early member of the Mattachine Society and a gay archivist) marched with the Spirit of Stonewall contingent that included NAMBLA; and at the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) conference in New York that same week, which expelled NAMBLA (despite Harry’s vocal protests and subsequent disgust) under pressure from U.S. Senator Jesse Helms, the Clinton administration, gay congressman Barney Frank, and the gay and lesbian assimilationist organizations; at his and John’s apartment in San Francisco; at a Faerie event in Stuyvesant Square Park in New York; at several NAMBLA conferences…

When I learned last September that Harry had inoperable cancer and only weeks to live, I wrote him a card that ended with a thought that expresses an appreciation for his life that I am sure many others would share: “You are leaving the world an unforgettable legacy, and will be an eternal part of our gay Pantheon, along with Ulrichs, Carpenter, and Whitman.”

Of course, Harry stood for much more than the comments published here.  But these views were also important to him, as his moving expressions of love for Matt, the man in his life as a boy, make clear.  Wherever he is, I thank him for them, and offer them to posterity.

     —David Thorstad.

Copyright © NAMBLA, 2003. All rights reserved.