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Hay, Harry (1912-2002)  
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Activist Harry Hay is recognized as one of the principal founders of the gay liberation movement in the United States. An original member of both the Mattachine Society and the Radical Faeries, he devoted his life to the cause of equality and dignity for glbtq people.

Early Life and Education

Hay's parents, both American, met and married in South Africa, where his father Henry Hay, known as Big Harry, was a manager in Cecil Rhodes' mining company. When the birth of their first child was impending, Margaret Neall Hay sailed for England, where their son Henry, Jr., called Little Harry, was born on April 7, 1912 in Worthington, Sussex.

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The senior Hay saw little of his family for the next two years, but when World War I broke out, he sent for them to join him in Chile, where he had another mining job. After suffering a serious injury on a work site, Hay resettled the family in California.

"Big Harry" Hay was harsh, opinionated, demanding, and quick to criticize anything that he perceived as less than perfect in his elder son, from insufficient "manliness" to his grades in school. In later years Hay spoke of his determination to live a life completely different from his father's because of his "personal hatred" for the man.

Hay stated that he was aware--however indistinctly at first--of his sexual orientation at a very early age. He recalled a same-sex sexual experience with a playmate at age nine. A couple of years later he devised a scheme to get his hands on the copy of Edward Carpenter's The Intermediate Sex (1906) kept locked away at his local library. Although as a young boy Hay could not completely understand what he was reading, he stated in a 1977 speech, "my world was transformed into a whole wonderful, different place" as soon as he learned that there were others like him and that he had the hope of finding love.

Despite his father's negative comments on his academic progress, Hay was a precocious child with a nearly photographic memory, and he excelled at school. After graduating from Los Angeles High School in 1930, he enrolled at Stanford University.

Hay's father wanted him to pursue a course of study such as medicine or engineering that would lead to a lucrative career, but Hay was drawn to drama and music, areas in which his mother had encouraged him to develop his talents.

Hay came out as a gay man in his first year at college. He had affairs with several fellow students.

Career as an Actor

In February 1932 Hay contracted a sinus infection so severe that he had to leave college. Instead of returning, he began working as an actor. His roles were generally minor--extra, bit-player, or stunt rider. He also worked as a shill for entertainer Ray Bourbon when the comedian performed at a Sunset Strip nightclub.

While working in Tom Taylor's play The Ticket of Leave Man--or--Falsely Accused in 1933, Hay met Will Geer, who would later be best known as the lovable "Grandpa" of The Waltons television series.

The two men shared a love of the outdoors, and Geer, whose college degree was in botany, happily accepted Hay's invitations to go hiking in the California mountains. The two quickly became lovers.

Geer and Hay both worked on a 1935 production of Clifford Odets's anti-Nazi play Till the Day I Die, in which Hay played a sadistic homosexual soldier who tortured Communists. Although the character was unsavory, Hay accepted the role because there were so few portrayals of openly gay people in the theater at the time.

The Communist Party and Marriage

Geer encouraged Hay's leftist political views and introduced him to the Communist party. Hay became a member. He worked in political theater and also learned organizing strategies.

Since the Communist party condemned homosexuality, Hay distanced himself from his gay friends, attempted to live as a heterosexual man, and eventually married (as did Geer). Anita Platky, whom Hay wed in 1938, was a dedicated worker for the party. The couple adopted two infant girls, in 1943 and 1945.

Unable to deny his true sexuality, Hay resumed socializing with other gay men and began having affairs. In 1951 he and his wife divorced, and he ended his affiliation with the Communist party.

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A portrait of Harry Hay by Stathis Orphanos.
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