Reminiscences of John Burnside and Harry Hay by David Thorstad

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Reminiscences of John Burnside and Harry Hay by David Thorstad

In the mid-1970s, when I was president of New York's Gay Activists Alliance, we received a letter from Harry Hay from Taos Pueblo, where he and John Burnside were living. I was surprised that Harry was still alive, so far under the radar had he gone. But in the early 1980s, after he had been "rediscovered," he came to New York to give a talk in Sheridan Square (very poorly attended, which I found disheartening), and Katherine Davenport, then a contributor to the /New York Native/ and radical lesbian witch and fellow pot smoker, introduced Harry to me. I made a huge Thanksgiving dinner for us. I didn't meet John till the 1990s, after I had left New York for Minnesota. I met him through my friend Phil Willkie, and from then on became good friends with both Harry and John. John was the sweetest, most gracious, self-effacing and deep gay man I have ever met. Both he and Harry knew down deep what gay male love is, and were accepting of its many varieties.

I spent time with them both at Phil's St. Paul apartment, and at his cabin in northern Wisconsin, was struck by how welcoming and accepting they both were when I introduced them to my underage boyfriend at the time. Gay males found their own path and with them there was never any need for justification of love. My partner and I also visited them in San Francisco a decade later.

My favorite recollection of John is the time he and I marched together in the SOS contingent during the 1994 parade in New York for the 30th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion. NAMBLA and supporters of sexual freedom made up the large SOS contingent. Also joining the contingent were other old-timers, including Jim Kepner. Randy Wicker videotaped. As John and I were proceeding along Central Park South, a big fat lesbian alongside the parade route yelled out at us: "No to child molesters! No to NAMBLA!" Without missing a beat, John said to her, in a firm but not angry or loud voice: "No to No!" I treasure that sign of his wisdom and straightforward expression of wisdom and gay male insight.

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