The Trouble With Harry Hay: Founder of the Modern Gay Movement

The GLBTRT has been reviewing books and movies in its newsletter since the early 1990s. Trace the evolution of queer publishing through these historic reviews. This review was originally published in Vol. 3, No 3 & 4 Spring/Summer 1991. 

Cover of The Trouble With Harry Hay: Founder of the Modem Gay MovementThe Trouble With Harry Hay: Founder of the Modern Gay Movement. By Stuart Timmons. Alyson Publications, 1990. Hardcover. $19.95. (ISBN 1-55583-175-3)

Hay was not the sole founder of the Mattachine Society but his ideals and efforts did assemble the society, which has served as a model for gay organizations since 1950. Hay’s unique contribution was his vision of homosexuals as an oppressed and organizable minority. Hay’s experience in the Communist Party gave guidance in the organization of Mattachine but just as the Party forced him out for being gay, Mattachine forced him out for being Communist.

No longer able to participate in either group, Hay began to research the history and cultural significance of homosexuals and came to see the minority as a tribe which needed to recover its own culture and innate spirituality. Homosexual males who believed in assimilation and in seeking acceptance by straight society were just male impersonators. Hay developed the philosophy of the Radical Faeries to embody a uniquely gay consciousness.

Although the author is a Radical Faerie and an admirer of Hay, Timmons does not present Hay as a bland saint. He doesn’t hide Hay’s streak of stubborn self-righteousness and moral arrogance, which contributed to divisions in the Mattachine Society and among the Radical Faeries, but which also gave the drive necessary for the creation of both groups.

Hay’s life makes inspiring reading as he overcomes obstacles and finds true love at age fifty. The book is a good source for gay history and a guide for gay political and spiritual activists. It is appropriate for academic and public libraries.

Reviewed by Bill Edminster
Gerber-Hart Gay and Lesbian Library
Chicago, Illinois

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