Is Harry Hay an icon?

Last week, I noted that Department of Education appointee, Kevin Jennings, wrote uncritically about Harry Hay in his book, Becoming Visible.  I wondered why Jennings would write about Hay without comment on Hay’s consistent support for the North American Man-boy Love Association.

Forget Kevin Jennings for a bit; Harry Hay is an interesting character in his own right. As is typical of me, once I start looking into something, a side aspect of a story catches my interest. Such it is with Harry Hay. I am in the middle of reading Stuart Timmons biography of Hay, The Trouble with Harry Hay.

I may have more to say about that book but I want to note that the new focus on Harry Hay has brought defenders. I am right now less interested in any possible Jennings-Hay connection and more on how Hay is being regarded by gay leaders.

This month is GLBT History Month and October 8th was Harry Hay day. In addition to appreciating Hay’s contributions, Timothy Kincaid over at BTB calls Hay “a kook” and “an anachronism and an embarrassment” suggesting that his status is non-issue. In contrast to Kincaid’s view, Hay is considered an icon by the GLBT History Month website and he is being defended by some gay luminaries. Specifically, some take offense at the suggestion that Hay was a NAMBLA member. In fact, Hay said he was not a member but he certainly supported them.

One such defender is Robert Croonquist who issued a call to participants in the National Equality March several days ago. Here it is from the blog, gaywisdom.org

Defend Harry Hay’s Reputation at the National Equality March.

As thousands of LGBT activists prepare to march on Washington, Harry Hay, one of the most important and beloved founders of the modern gay movement, is being used by right wing extremists as a bogeyman to destroy the career of Kevin Jennings, the Obama Administration’s highly qualified Assistant Deputy Secretary of the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools. 

 

Most recently Sean Hannity has mounted the attack

 

Harry Hay is being branded as a pederast and anyone who has ever spoken praise of Harry is being condemned as a supporter of pederasty. 

 

As one of the six heirs to the Estate of Harry Hay and John Burnside, I feel it incumbent upon myself to defend his reputation against the attacks that have become a staple of those members of the right-wing establishment who are bent on destabilizing the Obama Adminstration and destroying the careers of members of his administration through guilt by association.  

Let us make it clear: 

 HARRY HAY WAS NEVER A

 MEMBER OF THE NORTH

AMERICAN MAN BOY LOVE

ASSOCIATION, known as

NAMBLA.

   

Harry n John - LaCresta - Timmons His defense of the organization at several points in his 90-year history of speaking truth to power was based on his experiences as a young teenager exploring the world of sexuality with older men, himself being the aggressor. These experiences were very positive for the young Harry and are described in Stuart Timmons’ excellent biography, The Trouble With Harry Hay. There are no records of the adult Mr. Hay ever having had sexual relations with under-aged youth. It is also innacurate to say, as it is frequently written, that NAMBLA promotes the “legalization of sexual abuse of young boys by older men.” Hay agreed with NAMBLA that in many cases initiation into sexuality, as has been the case across cultures and millenia, is better suited to those with experience than with other youth who also have no knowledge of the complexities and responsibilities of sexuality. Hay also concurred with NAMBLA that age of consent laws are out of step with the age of sexual awakening and exploration. Harry Hay’s ideas concerning youth and sexuality were based on his desire to protect youth, not to exploit and abuse them. 

 

The second instance of his defense of NAMBLA was in 1994 at Stonewall 25: Spirit of Stonewall March in New York City.ILGA, the International Lesbian and Gay Association had been granted NGO status by the UN theprevious year. As a result, the US Senate unanimously passed a motion sponsored by the right-wing senator Jesse Helms that the USA would withhold funds of more than 118 million dollars due to the UN and its sub-organizations unless the President of the USA could certify to the Congress that no agency of the United Nations “grants any official status, accreditation or recognition to any organization which promotes, condones or seeks the legalization of pedophilia or which includes as a subsidiary or member any such organization.” On June 23, the week of the march, NAMBLA was expelled from ILGA, on the motion of the executive committee, and it was decided that “groups or associations whose predominant aim is to support or promote pedophilia are incompatible with the future development of ILGA.” Hay felt that if the emerging gay movement allowed the outside to define it, outside forces would then control it. It was in this context that Hay was critical of ILGA’s position and stood in defense of NAMBLA. We again stand at a similar crossroads. 

 

It is morally and intellectually dishonest and patently false to reduce the life and work of Harry Hay to one of pederasty. He was a courageous hero who pioneered the movement for the equal rights of an entire class of people denied the basic civil rights guaranteed to them under the Constitution of the United States of America. A Dutch friend who spent some of his youth in a Japanese Concentration Camp in Indonesia told me recently that if Americans remain silent at this critical juncture in our history we will live to regret it. 

 

Speak out. Defend the reputation of our beloved Harry Hay. 

 

Robert Croonquist aka Covelo

Is this an effective defense of Hay? This statement floored me:

Hay agreed with NAMBLA that in many cases initiation into sexuality, as has been the case across cultures and millenia, is better suited to those with experience than with other youth who also have no knowledge of the complexities and responsibilities of sexuality.

 No one has suggested that Hay personally engaged in pederasty but, according to the NAMBLA website, and now confirmed by one of heirs that he did speak positively about such relationships in support of NAMBLA.  For instance, Hay told NAMBLA:

I’m telling you this story, and I’m saying it tonight, in memory of a man—all I can remember is that his name was Matt. And I send to all of you my love and deep affection for what you offer to the boys, in honor of this boy when he was fourteen, and when he needed to know best of all what only another gay man could show him and tell him.

I also would like to say at this point that it seems to me that in the gay community the people who should be running interference for NAMBLA are the parents and friends of gays.  Because if the parents and friends of gays are truly friends of gays, they would know from their gay kids that the relationship with an older man is precisely what thirteen-, fourteen-, and fifteen-year-old kids need more than anything else in the world.   And they would be welcoming this, and welcoming the opportunity for young gay kids to have the kind of experience that they would need.

So, again, as I said, my offering is not as a member of NAMBLA, but in memory of that fourteen-year-old boy who was handled by Matt so long ago.  And in memorial to Matt, I offer you my love.

NAMBLA was established in 1978 and Hay spoke at their meetings in 1983, 1984, 1986 and 1994. The above quote comes from a 1983 meeting where he spoke on behalf of NAMBLA. 

And to think, I was critical of Christian groups for lauding and giving a platform to bikini wearing Carrie Prejean.

Regarding whether or not Hay is or should be an icon, I am not qualified to say since I am not in the community. However, one way to judge is to examine how prominent gay organizations view people. I noted above that the Equality Forum views Hay as an icon. Here is how their material describes the October lineup of icons:

 

GLBT History Month teaches our heritage, provides role models, builds community, and celebrates the extraordinary national and international contributions of the GLBT community.
 
“I have never been given the opportunity to learn about the gay community,” said Craig Richie, former GSA and Student Body President, Jenkintown High School in Pennsylvania. “GLBT History Month has been a way for me to discover my history. There are lots of Icons for me to look up to.”
In 2006, for the launch, there were 20 GLBT History Month collaborating organizations with a link on their Web sites. In 2009, over 600 collaborating organizations have the link, making GLBT History Month the largest collaborative project worldwide for our community. High school GSA’s, youth groups, colleges, and community centers are creating GLBT History Month exhibits.
Corporate workplace groups – including Aetna, Hallmark, McDonald’s, Monsanto, New York Life, and Pepsi - are utilizing GLBT History Month resources to promote diversity.
The high school boy here certainly seems to view icons as those he can “look up to.” Given Hay’s views and his support for the initiation of 13+ year old boys, should gay youth look up to Harry Hay?
UPDATE 10/15/09: Zombie at Zomblog has a comprehensive examination of Harry Hay’s support for NAMBLA and more information regarding Kevin Jennings’ knowledge of Hay’s positions.
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  • Timothy Kincaid

    This month is GLBT History Month and October 8th was Harry Hay day. In addition to appreciating Hay’s contributions, Timothy Kincaid over at BTB calls Hay “a kook” and “an anachronism and an embarrassment” suggesting that his status is non-issue. In contrast to Kincaid’s view, Hay is considered an icon by the GLBT History Month website and he is being defended by some gay luminaries. Specifically, some take offense at the suggestion that Hay was a NAMBLA member. In fact, Hay said he was not a member but he certainly supported them.

    As I am quoted in your article, I’ll clarify what I actually said and believe

    What I said was that in his waning years he became an embarrassment and was an anachronism. He most definitely was a kook.

    Now that he is conveniently dead, some gay organizations, such as that which compiles the GLBT History Month, seek to honor his contributions in the 1950′s. They do not honor his defense of NAMBLA in the 1980′s.

    Incidentally, if your list of “prominent gay organizations” includes Robert Croonquist, then you are more woefully ignorant of the gay community than I thought.

    Croonquist and his buddies are part of Hay’s old gay spirit group, the dwindling remnants of the Radical Faeries who thought that there is a separate gay spirituality. No one knows, listens to, or has even the slightest awareness of Croonquist.

    It would be as though I quoted Pastor Steven Anderson and suggested that he is a Christian luminary and the leader of a “prominent Christian group”. It’s a joke.

    As far as I’m concerned, you can criticize Hay to your heart’s content. I am critical of him myself.

    But it is not honest to suggest, hint, insinuate or imply that because Hay is included in gay history that this is an indictment on the gay community, gay groups, or gay individuals. However, I very much doubt that this will matter in the slightest to your readers and commenters.

  • David Blakeslee

    Welcome back Timothy.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton Warren

    Pastor Steven Anderson has not been elevated by any large Christian groups and would not for any reason given his crazy views. I don’t think the analogy works.

  • Michael Bussee

    As far as I’m concerned, you can criticize Hay to your heart’s content. I am critical of him myself. But it is not honest to suggest, hint, insinuate or imply that because Hay is included in gay history that this is an indictment on the gay community, gay groups, or gay individuals.

    Hear!! HEAR!!!

  • Timothy Kincaid

    Croonquist has not been elevated by any large Gay groups and would not for any reason given his crazy views. The analogy is exact.

  • Michael Bussee

    Who is Croonquist? I am sorry I am really out of touch here. Is he important in someway?

  • Michael Bussee

    Maybe we should start a “Hall of Unknown Wackos Who Don’t Represent Anybody”. We could make quite a list on both sides of the gay issue.

  • Michael Bussee

    OK. Something much more important than haggling over what may be a made-up story is going on. Real story. Uganda. Tune in. Cry out.

  • http://www.wthrockmorton.com Warren

    Michael – Thanks for a great suggestion for a new blog. I am still laughing.

  • David Blakeslee

    @ Timothy

    But it is not honest to suggest, hint, insinuate or imply that because Hay is included in gay history that this is an indictment on the gay community, gay groups, or gay individuals.

    I believe this is a straw man…I don’t think this is what has been done. Erecting a straw man and then condemning Warren (or others) is unfair.

    Hay is not just included in Gay History, he is an Icon…(not a kook). There are people in your own community, who comment on your website who deeply disagree with your devaluing characterization of Hay.

    There is no indictment of the gay community…only concern that those who are leaders publicly disavow only “some” of the values that Hay had…especially since they are in positions of power.

  • http://www.wthrockmorton.com Warren Throckmorton
  • Lynn David

    I think it is important to realize that whatever one thinks of as the gay community, it is a community in flux. Hay [and I] came out of a time and likely local personal philosophical considerations of homosexuals being about nothing but sex. I think that attitude still exists when viewing Hay’s body of works both from outside and even inside of the gay community. Our community would like to reinvent itself in terms of spirituality and interpersonal relationship. And while Hay was a pioneer in that effort; his ‘outlook’ does not mesh with todays hopes from most of the gay community.

    .

    Hay still holds to some ideas concerning how young gay man should become ‘accultured’ – that acculturation being into a what Hay saw as a ‘counter/sub-culture’ in no way associated with the overall culture. That was likely due to how Hay viewed what was in his youth a quite homophobic culture in America.

    .

    Today, the gay community would see the goal as ‘normalization’ for young gays and lesbians. Most would like to think that the social structures are in place that allow a young gay person to need not see that aspect of their life to be about nothing but sex. That goal is not yet been reached – and perhaps it is the pessimist in me and perhaps also Hay which think it will never be reached. It may be that thinking which keeps Hay ‘set in his ways.’

    .

    Does the fact that the outlook for the acculturation of gays and lesbians might be looking up make Harry Hay any less a gay icon…. no.

  • David Blakeslee

    Joe Kort, M.A. is on the advisory counsel for White Crane…as well as many others.

    I think Timothy is wrong about this as well…you can’t demean those in your community with false descriptions of their impact or their support network.

  • David Blakeslee

    Wrong Tim:

    Croonquist has not been elevated by any large Gay groups and would not for any reason given his crazy views. The analogy is exact.

  • David Blakeslee

    Wrong Timothy (my bad),

    Croonquist has not been elevated by any large Gay groups and would not for any reason given his crazy views. The analogy is exact.

  • http://theformers.wordpress.com Debbie Thurman

    Maybe we should start a “Hall of Unknown Wackos Who Don’t Represent Anybody”. We could make quite a list on both sides of the gay issue.

    Yeah, we could all use a lighter moment now and then. How about just making it a post some Friday, Warren?

    Lynn David, you do know that Harry Hay is dead, right? I would not have expected to hear this from you:

    Today, the gay community would see the goal as ‘normalization’ for young gays and lesbians. Most would like to think that the social structures are in place that allow a young gay person to need not see that aspect of their life to be about nothing but sex. That goal is not yet been reached – and perhaps it is the pessimist in me and perhaps also Hay which think it will never be reached. It may be that thinking which keeps Hay ’set in his ways.’

    I wonder how that pessimism tracks with others in the gay community. I’ve got my own doubts about gays rising above that image, but I’m coming from more of an outside than inside view. It would be interesting to see what gays think.

  • David Blakeslee

    @ Lynn David,

    Thanks for your frank assessment and perspective.

  • Lynn David

    Yes, Debbie, I know Hay is dead. I guess in equating my viewpoint to his I missed hitting the correct tenses for my verbs.

    I suspect my pessimism comes with age, that lack of hope for any change which would affect my own life. However, there is also pragmatism in my view; that which realizes straights, especially straight men, will always have a disdain for gay people, especially gay men. We are not the ‘humans’ we would say we are; we are still the fearful animal only tinkering at the game of sentience.

  • http://theformers.wordpress.com Debbie Thurman

    You already know my take on it, Lynn. The human race is fallen. “The game of sentience” makes us sound as if we are in a Star-Trek script — that we are actually perfectible or at least capable of advancing much farther than we are in our mores. The opposite is more likely to be the scenario as we move farther from the God who created us.

  • Michael Bussee

    I wonder how that pessimism tracks with others in the gay community.

    I am more optimistic. I am convinced that we are winning what some call the “culture wars”. Even now, it is beginning to matter less and less that you are gay. No one cares a whole lot, unless you live in Uganda.

  • http://theformers.wordpress.com Debbie Thurman

    No one cares a whole lot, unless you live in Uganda.

    The Middle East (or any Muslim country) and the former Soviet Union are none too pleasant, either.

  • Michael Bussee

    Didn’t mean it was gone everywhere. Only that here it is less of an issue. More and more people know and love someone who is gay or SSA. Gays are “blending in” more. A gay friend of mine tells me “straight is the new gay.”

    Example: I went to Riverside Pride last Saturday. The poltical-action type booths were rarely visited. People were just enjoying a nice October day in the Park, listening to the bands. I felt sad in a way. There seems to be less desire and need for “gay” identity, “gay’ activism and “gay” community.

    My guess is that no one there would have known or cared who Harry Hay was. That is probably a good thing. Certainly, no one would have considered him an “icon”.

  • David Blakeslee

    @ Lynn David,

    What you are describing in straight men seems like disgust…if you want to elaborate further, I would be very interested in your point of view.

  • Lynn David

    Debbie Thurman…. You already know my take on it, Lynn. The human race is fallen. “The game of sentience” makes us sound as if we are in a Star-Trek script — that we are actually perfectible or at least capable of advancing much farther than we are in our mores. The opposite is more likely to be the scenario as we move farther from the God who created us.

    Yeah… such an attitudinal view is that which is inherant in my point. That point doesn’t imply at all that we are perfectible. But that there is knowledge to be found about ourselves beyond that which man has enshrined as needfully ‘gospel.’

  • Lynn David

    David Blakeslee…. What you are describing in straight men seems like disgust…if you want to elaborate further, I would be very interested in your point of view.

    That’s about it…. a.k.a. the “ick factor.” What’s to elaborate on? It’s not my problem.

  • Michael Bussee

    I agree. I think straight guys will always think sex with men is icky. It’s the same way I feel about…well, you know.

  • David Blakeslee

    @ Lynn David,

    Thanks…

    I recall those feelings in myself with some of my SSA friends (gay and otherwise). my experience as a straight guy is that as I persist past it…there is a lot of friendship and kindness there…more than is there with some of my straight friends.

    It can be more personal and the compassion is fairly deep and kind.

    It is deeply appreciated.

    I also experience SSA friends as missing much of the bravado and some of the image management.

    Thanks again for commenting…


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