Harry Hay Awtt Portrait

Harry Hay

LGBTQIA+ Movement Founder, Progressive : 1912-2002

“Out of the mists of our long oppression, / We bring love for ourselves and each other, / And love for the gifts we bear, /So heavy and so painful the fashioning of them, /So long the road given us to travel them. A separate people, /We bring a gift to celebrate each other, /’Tis a gift to be gay! / Feel the pride of it!”


Harry Hay was born in England on the day the Titanic sank. When he was ten years old, he and his family moved to Los Angeles. As a young man, he worked in Hollywood as a ghostwriter and an extra on movie sets, where he met the actor Will Geer (best known for his later role as Grandpa on The Waltons). Geer became Hay’s lover and introduced him to the American Communist Party. Hay became an active trade unionist and learned the organizing skills he later used to advocate for LGBTQIA+ rights.

Despite his same-sex orientation, Hay married fellow Communist Party member Anita Platky in 1938 because the Party rejected LGBTQIA+ people. He helped found the Mattachine Society in 1950 to create a network of LGBTQIA+ support. Hay went public with the society in 1951 and he and Platky divorced. Ironically, Mattachine rejected him in the early fifties for his Communist beliefs.

He continued organizing for LGBTQIA+ rights, championing the notion that LGBTQIA+ people represented a political and cultural minority who had to be honest about who they were if they wanted to live authentic lives. He put forth the radical idea that queer people could give votes in exchange for ideological support. In 1948, Hay suggested publicly that Vice President Henry Wallace, the Progressive Party’s candidate for president, would get the LGBTQIA+ community’s vote if he backed a sexual privacy law. It was a brave act at a time when it was illegal for LGBTQIA+ people to congregate and the American Psychological Association classified homosexuality as a mental illness.

Hay rejected the idea that LGBTQIA+ people should assimilate into society; instead, he thought they should change it so that LGBTQIA+ people would be accepted as full individuals. He rose up against huge odds in his struggle to give American LGBTQIA+  people a voice by constantly pushing the margins of acceptability, asking questions, and taking a stand at enormous personal risk.


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