Harry (Henry) Hay Jr. (1912- 2002) ranks as the founder of the modern American gay-rights movement. Born of American parents in England, he moved with the family to Los Angeles in 1919. In 1930 Hay enrolled in Stanford University, where he decided to designate himself a “temperamental,” then a code word for homosexual. For financial reasons he dropped out of college. Back in Los Angeles he found work in the film industry and in little theaters. He joined the Communist Party in 1934. Encouraged by fellow Party members, he married Anna Platky in an unsuccessful effort to turn heterosexual; the marriage ended in 1951.
In 1950 Hay joined with several others to form the Mattachine Society, the first stable American gay rights group. The group’s structure was based partly on the Communist Party and partly on the Freemasons. Internal disputes led to his departure from the group in 1953. Following the end of his involvement with Mattachine, Hay became disillusioned with the homosexual political scene and withdrew for some years to pursue other interests.
In 1978 he and his long-time partner John Burnside, an inventor, helped to found the Radical Faeries, a group emphasizing spirituality and gentle male bonding. In the early 1980s, Hay joined other early gay rights activists protesting the exclusion of the North American Man Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) from participation in gay and lesbian events. Hay's opposition to assimilation to heterosexual norms extended to groups like ACT-UP. He believed that the confrontational tactics favored by the AIDS activist group reflected the typical machismo of straight men.
After moving to San Francisco in 1989, Harry Hay died there on October 24, 2002 at the age of 90.
See: Harry Hay (Will Roscoe, ed.). Radically Gay: Gay Liberation in the Word of Its Founder. Boston: Beacon Press, 1996. Also: Stuart Timmons. The Trouble with Harry Hay, Founder of the American Gay Movement. Boston: Alyson, 1990.