Sunday, October 24, 2010

Remembering... Harry Hay

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In 1950, a generation before Stonewall, Harry Hay helped to co-found the Mattachine Society, which argued for gay and lesbian civil rights; at a time when it was illegal for lesbians and gay men to even congregate in public, he and his fellow members took a terrible risk. Where an earlier group - The Society for Human Rights - formed in Chicago in 1924 but was very quickly suppressed by the authorities, Mattachine survived well beyond the Stonewall era, not officially disbanding until 1987.

Harry Hay's place, then, as father not only of the gay rights movement but also of gay culture is unquestioned, like Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon are among the mothers of the lesbian community and culture.

Not satisfied, though, to liberate just one oppressed group, he co-founded the Radical Faeries in 1979 alongside his partner, John Burnside. Radical Faeries espoused an Earth-based neo-pagan religion which embraced all sorts of gay men, who in those days were largely ostracized from all religions, and in his opinion needed a welcoming place in which to be spiritual.

In his final years, Hay was dismayed to see the toll both AIDS and assimilation was taking on the community he had worked so hard to build. Harry Hay died on this day in 2002 of lung cancer at the age of 90 in San Francisco. He was survived by Burnside, his partner since 1963, who himself died in September 2008 at the age of 91.
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