Gay Issues

L.A.’s Silverlake Honors Gay Rights Pioneer with “The Harry Hay Steps”

| by Denise A Justin

A picturesque outdoor staircase in the charming, multi-cultural community of Silverlake, California, will commemorate the life and contributions of Harry Hay, one of the nation’s first gay rights activists and founder of the Mattachine Society. 

On June 1, 2011, the Silverlake Neighborhood Council (SLNC) unanimously voted to name the flight of stairs, “The Harry Hay Steps,” and to install a plaque in his honor.

Harry Hay lived at 2328 Cove Way and was part of the modern artistic culture during the early to mid-20th Century, according to the motion by the Silverlake NC.  

Hay conceived of the idea of a homosexual activist group in 1948. He wrote out the organizing principles in a document he referred to as "The Call". Over the next two years, Hay refined his idea, finally conceiving of an "international...fraternal order" to serve as "a service and welfare organization devoted to the protection and improvement of Society's Androgynous Minority.  (Hay/Roscoe, p. 61)

Hay met Rudi Gernreich in July 1950, and Gernreich, declared that the Call was, "the most dangerous thing [he had] ever read.  On November 11, 1950, reportedly on the hillside next to the top of the Cove Avenue staircase, Hay, along with Gernreich and several friends, held the first meeting of the Mattachine Society in Los Angeles, under the name "Society of Fools".  The group changed its name to "Mattachine Society" in April 1951. The Los Angeles branch of Mattachine shut down in 1961.

The following tribute to Henry “Harry” Hay, Jr., is quoted from Wikipedia:

 “Henry Hay (April 7, 1912 – October 24, 2002) was a labor advocate, teacher and early leader in the American LGBT rights movement. He is known for his roles in helping to found several gay organizations, including the Mattachine Society, the first sustained gay rights group in the United States:

“Hay was exposed early in life to the principles of Marxism and to the idea of same-sex sexual attraction. He drew upon these experiences to develop his view of homosexuals as a cultural minority. A long time member of the Communist Party USA, Hay's Marxist history led to his resignation from the Mattachine leadership in 1953

“Hay's involvement in the gay movement became more informal after that, although he did co-found the Los Angeles chapter of the Gay Liberation Front in 1969. Following a move to New Mexico with his longtime companion John Burnside in 1970, Hay's ongoing interest in Native American spirituality led the couple to co-found the Radical Faeries.

“Hay's belief in the cultural minority status of homosexuals led him to take a stand against assimilationism. This stance led him to offer public support to controversial groups like the North American Man Boy Love Association and to criticize both the mainstream gay rights movement and some of the movement's radical components, including the AIDS activist group ACT UP.”