Harry Hay, pioneer gay rights activist, mourned

SAN FRANCISCO – Well-known gay rights activist Harry Hay passed away Oct. 17 at the age of 90.

“Today our movement lost one of its treasures. The death of legendary gay activist Harry Hay leaves a heavy sadness in our hearts and minds,” said Lorri L. Jean, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF). “Harry was one of the pioneers of the gay rights movement.His courageous and visionary leadership laid the groundwork for today’s activists seeking full equality for the GLBT community. We join Harry’s countless friends and loved ones in mourning his passing.”

In 1950, Harry Hay and four others formed one of the nation’s first gay rights organizations, the Mattachine Society. The idea that homosexuals should organize for civil rights was formed at an election-year party in Los Angeles that was attended exclusively by gay men. The organization was named for the Matachinos, court jesters of the Italian Renaissance who, behind their masks, were free to speak the truth. The Mattachine Society was the first to propose the idea of gay and lesbian people as an oppressed cultural minority.

In the 1960s Hay helped organize the first “gay pride” parade in Los Angeles, was chair of the L.A. Committee to Fight the Exclusion of Homosexuals from the Armed Forces and chair of the Southern California Gay Liberation Front. In the late 70s and early 80s, Hay became increasingly concerned with spiritual issues and formed the Radical Faeries, a movement devoted to ecology, spiritual truth and “gay-centeredness.”

NGLTF honored Hay at the October 1999 Creating Change conference. In his award acceptance speech, Hay said, “I want you to realize, of course, that by honoring me you are all honoring yourselves. In 1948, when I first rifled through Alfred Kinsey’s best-selling book “The Sexual Behavior of the Human Male,” I sensed then that this book should require that all Americans forevermore recast their thinking about homosexuals. His chapter five was implying to me that we were a class of people with the social and political dimensions of a cultural minority. Indeed, a viciously oppressed minority, who, were we to organize, might someday even liberate ourselves under principles protected by the American Constitution.”