Harry Hay - Nominee

1912 - 2002

Harry Hay was born in England on the day the Titanic sank. As a boy he received periodic abuse at the hands of his father who disapproved of his “sissified” son’s behavior.  His family moved to Los Angeles in 1919 and it was there in 1934 that he met Will Geer aka Grandpa Walton from The Walton's TV show, who became his lover for many years. Geer introduced Hay to the Communist Party where he became an active trade unionist and later put those organizational skills to good use as an advocate for gay rights. Since the Communist Party disapproved of homosexuals, Hay married Anita Platky in 1938 and they adopted two daughters. In 1950 he co-founded “The Mattachine Society” with his then-lover, Rudi Gernreich, Bob Hull, Chuck Rowland, and Dale Jennings. Inspired by an incendiary manifesto Hay had drafted, most historians mark the founding of Mattachine as the beginning of an organized gay movement in the U.S. When he went public with his involvement in the organization, Platky divorced him. Then, deemed a security risk, he was expelled from the Communist Party, shortly before being ejected by Mattachine for being a communist. Despite all these rejections, Hay continued pressing for gay rights and was one of the first to link gay support with voting when he publicly suggested to vice-presidential candidate Henry Wallace that the Progressive Party would get the homosexual vote if they backed the sexual privacy law. Hay never advocated that gays assimilate, believing instead that society must change and accept homosexuals as full individuals on their own terms as part of a distinct “Sexual Minority” – a provocative viewpoint that was decades ahead of its time. During the 1950s he worked fearlessly with the Citizen’s Committee to Outlaw Entrapment. Shortly after the Stonewall Riot in 1969 he was elected the first Chair of the Southern California Gay Liberation Front; and in 1979 he co-founded The Radical Faeries. Harry Hay spent the latter years of his life exploring the “TwoSpirit” people of Native American societies.  He died of lung cancer on October 24, 2002 at the age of 90. He remains one of the most influential and iconic gay activists ever to have lived.

Harry Hay Headshot

Demography

Gender Male

Sexual Orientation Gay

Gender Identity Cisgender

Ethnicity Caucasian/White

Nations Affiliated United States United Kingdom Chile

Era/Epoch Homophile Movement (1945-1969) Information Age (1970-present) Post-Stonewall Era (1974-1980)

Field(s) of Contribution

Social Justice

Commemorations & Honors

Mattachine Co-Founder (1950)

Southern California Gay Liberation Front's First Chair (1969)

The Radical Faeries (1979)

Hope Along the Wind: The Life of Harry Hay Eric Slade Documentary (2002)

Silver Lake Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Renamed Cove Avenue Stairway to Mattachine Steps (2011)

Inaugural San Francisco Rainbow Honor Walk Honoree (2014)

National LGBTQ Wall of Honor at the Stonewall National Monument Inductee (2019)

Resources

Related Images

Harry Hay in 1933

First Mattachine Society Christmas Party in 1951 Harry Hay Third From Left

John Burnside and Harry Hay in 1980

The Mattachine Steps in Silver Lake Los Angeles

Related Videos

Harry Hay Interviewed by his Great, Great Nephew for his 11th Grade Sociology C…

Vito Russo Interviews Barbara Gittings and Harry Hay

Authorship

Original Biography Author
Victor Salvo
Biography Edited By
Owen Keehnen
Resources Coordination
Carrie Maxwell