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Harry Hay, Gay Rights Pioneer and Radical Faerie, Turns 100 Years Old

Co-founder of the Mattachine Society and the Radical Faeries, longtime Los Angeles resident Harry Hay would have turned 100 years old on Saturday, April 7. He is widely regarded as the father of the American gay rights movement.

By all accounts, Hay was a major league rebel, holding close to his principles and left-wing political beliefs and sometimes clashing with the gay rights movement as it became more organized over the decades. "I condemn the national gay press for its emphasis on consumerism," he once said.

Hay was born in 1912 in England and moved to Los Angeles with his family in 1919. By 1923, he realized he was attracted to other boys. In 1950, he helped found the Mattachine Society, one of the first organized gay rights groups in the United States.

Hay was not only a gay rights activist but a labor union advocate and Communist. His interest in political activism would continue throughout his life, taking up a water rights cause, for example, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he lived for a period of time.

The activist was also an "anti-assimilationist," believing that joining American mainstream society would be harmful to the gay community.

"We know how to live through their eyes," Hay once said. "We can always play their games, but are we denying ourselves by doing this? If you're going to carry the skin of conformity over you, you are going to suppress the beautiful prince or princess within you."

In the 1970s, Hay co-founded the Radical Faeries, a group that sought to do political work while also creating spiritual renewal within the gay community. Hay seemed obsessed with understanding what it truly meant to be gay and then championing those feminine and masculine traits. Anything too macho was suspect in Hay's eyes.

Hay, who lived with his longtime partner John Burnside, died in 2002. We're still waiting for the bio-pic of this controversial, one-of-a-kind gay rights leader.

On Saturday, April 7, there will be a dedication of the "Mattachine Steps" that lead up to Hay's Silver Lake home and a book signing of Stuart Timmon's biography The Trouble with Harry Hay at Stories bookstore in Echo Park. See Frontiers news editor Karen Ocamb's blog, LGBT POV, for more information.

Contact Patrick Range McDonald at pmcdonald@laweekly.com.

Follow McDonald on Twitter and his Facebook page.


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