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.
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
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.