Review by: Wik Wikholm
Reviewed on: June 01, 2010
You might expect the first significant documentary film about the founder of the gay male movement for equality in the United States to be an exercise in hero worship, but Hope Along the Wind: The Life of Harry Hay reveals almost as much about the flaws that kept Hay from achieving more as it does about the strengths that led to his substantial accomplishments.
Hope Along the Wind is a straightforward and well-crafted documentary that begins with a brief recap of Hay's youth. He was a whip-smart boy born into a wealthy family that lost its riches during the Great Depression. During his teenage years, he developed leftist sympathies and later became an ardent member of the Communist Party to which he was introduced by actor Will Geer, his friend and eventual lover.
After consulting a psychiatrist who told him marriage would likely cure him of his homosexuality, Hay married a fellow Party member with whom he had shared his homosexual history. The marriage produced two children, but failed to make Hay's homosexuality go away. Unable to bear the double life that his marriage and homosexuality forced upon him, Hay divorced. He also left the Party on grounds that his homosexuality could prove embarrassing or even expose fellow members to investigation. Though no longer able to call himself a card-carrying communist, Hay remained committed to the Party's ideals, ideology, and organizational style.
In 1950, Hay used the skills he acquired as a communist organizer to lead the formation of the Mattachine Society, the first successful gay rights organization in the United States. Turbulent years followed as more centrist members joined Mattachine and ultimately expelled Hay and other radicals from the group's leadership. The centrists rebuilt Mattachine into an organization narrowly focused on ending police harassment and gaining homosexual rights. In the age of Senator Joe McCarthy and House Un-American Affairs Committee witch-hunts, the moderates had little sympathy with--and considerable fear of--Hay's broader radical agenda and especially his communism.
Some years after his ouster from Mattachine, Hay embraced the counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s and became an iconic leader of the Radical Faeries, a movement described by glbtq.com contributor John Harry Banck as identified with "the gender variant sacred outsider that has appeared and reappeared in many cultures throughout human history." In the film, Hay says that he sees the Faeries as similar to the Berdache (two-spirit people) in Native American cultures. Though anthropologists will quickly recognize Hay's appropriation of the Berdache as an idealized, oversimplified, and romanticized distortion of two-spirit traditions, the film includes a scene in which a group of American Indians honor Hay and express appreciation for his attention.
No film can present a complete biography in just 57 minutes, but Hope Along the Wind succeeds in capturing the high points of Hay's activist career as well as the ideological underpinnings of his activism. It also exposes the personal rigidity, inability to compromise, and narcissism that kept him from accomplishing even more than he did.
The controversy surrounding Hay's unsuccessful fight against the exclusion of NAMBLA from pride marches is notably absent from the film. The issue resurfaced in 2009 when right-wing groups tried to use it to smear Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) founder Kevin Jennings and, by extension, the Obama administration, when the Secretary of Education appointed Jennings Assistant Deputy Secretary for Safe and Drug-Free Schools.
Hope Along the Wind, which was filmed before Hay's death in 2002, includes extensive interviews with Hay and several other Mattachine founders as well as documentary photographs from the era. It is valuable for its review of the American gay male homophile movement in the 1950s, its discussion of the birth and growth of countercultural movements such as the Radical Faeries in the 1970s, and as a brief and balanced introduction to the life of Harry Hay.