Harry Hay was born to American parents Margaret and Harry, Sr. in Worthing, England. Hayâs father abused him, hitting Hay so often that he suffered from permanent hearing loss. Hay believed his father abused him because he was gay. At age 11, Hay read Edward Carpenterâs book, The Intermediate Sex, and realized he wasnât the only boy who had certain feelings for other boys. During the summers, he worked on cattle ranches where he met members of the Industrial Workers of the World and was exposed to Marxism. Hayâs ties to Marxism and the Communist Party helped define his viewpoint that homosexuals were a cultural minority and should not seek assimilation.
In 1948, Hay starting forming his idea for the Mattachine Society, a homosexual activist group. Membership grew slowly until 1952 when one member was arrested for lewd behavior. Hay and the rest of the group used the arrest as an example to show how the police treated homosexual men. Mattachine Society Membership increased quickly. Along with a rise in membership came a growing concern by many that the group was too far to the left. In 1953, Hay resigned as leader of the Mattachine Society due to his membership with the Communist Party USA.
After he left Mattachine, Hay largely withdrew from political activism. However, in the 1960s, Hay did form the Circle of Loving Friends, the North American Conference of Homophile Organizations and helped establish a Gay Liberation Front in Los Angeles with his life partner, John Burnside. On October 24, 2002, Harry Hay died of lung cancer. Fun fact: On June 1, 2011, the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council in Los Angeles renamed the famous Cover Avenue Stairway in Hayâs honor.