In modern political discourse, much effort is taken to discredit ideas, not on their merit, but on their origins and the personalities associated with them. American ideals, the US constitution, and the institutions they birthed are often posited to be inseparable from the “slave owning founding fathers” and the “racist system” that laid them down. Its argued concepts as fundamental as freedom of speech are tainted because of the “far-right” personalities now associated with them. In the eyes of their opponents, they have what amounts to ideological original sin.
But the LGBT movement has its own founding fathers, whose personalities and ideas form the backbone of modern activism. Unlike the actual founding fathers, they lived closer to 1960 than 1760, and as such their work is still the direct blueprint for ideas espoused in schools and colleges across the world. One of the most influential of these figures, and the topic of our piece today, was Harry Hay.
He may not be a household name, but within the gay rights movement Harry Hay is considered the founding father of Gay Liberation, the precursor to the modern LGBT movement, and a vital figure in its emergence as a cultural force. An ardent communist, Hay joined the American communist Party in 1934 but found himself hemmed in by their opposition to homosexuality as “bourgeois.” After a failed excursion into heterosexual marriage, he set up the Mattachine Society in 1948 —the first organization dedicated to gay rights in the United States. In 1969 he chaired the west coast chapter of the Gay Liberation Front, set up in the wake of the Stonewall Riots, and continued to be active and influential throughout his life.
Here are just a few samples of what has been written about Hay that demonstrates his importance to the history of the LGBT movement:
“In 1950, Harry Hay Founded the Modern Gay-Rights Movement. He May Have Been the Bravest Man in Los Angeles.” reads a 1990 headline for the Los Angeles Times.
“Although little known in the broader national culture over the years, Mr. Hay's contribution was to do what no one else had done before: plant the idea among American homosexuals that they formed an oppressed cultural minority of their own, like blacks, and to create a lasting organization in which homosexuals could come together to socialize and to pursue what was, at the beginning, the very radical concept of homosexual rights” read’s the New York Times’ obituary to Hay in 2002.
“Then-editor [of the Progressive Magazine] Matt Rothschild called Hay "a hero of ours," writing that he should be a household name. He wrote: "This courageous and visionary man launched the modern gay-rights movement even in the teeth of McCarthyism." In 1950 Hay started the first modern gay-rights organization, the underground Mattachine Society” -Progressive Magazine 2016
But here's something all of these gushing articles fail to mention about Harry Hay: he was a pedophile. Not only a pedophile, but a proud advocate for decriminalizing sex with children and the removal of laws governing the age of consent.
From its founding in the late 1970s, Hay was an active supporter and member of the North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA), the largest pro-pedophile organization in the United States. Speaking at the 1983 Gay Academic Union forum at New York University, Hay stated 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 referenced his own sexual encounters with older men as a fourteen-year-old boy in a positive light.
As is made clear in the 1994 documentary “Chickenhawk: Men Who Love Boys,” NAMBLA isn’t some esoteric organization that wanted to discuss the intellectual ideas or free speech issues surrounding pedophilia -these were active and predatory child molesters. NAMBLA itself was partly born out of the reaction to police raids in Boston in 1977 which uncovered the rapes of boys as young as eight years old. It's also apparent from Hay’s statements that he held a belief that pederasty was not only acceptable but beneficial since his own statutory rape at age 14. These are not, as some sources imply, bad decisions and controversial views arrived at in later years but long held core beliefs.
NAMBLA was not unique, throughout the 1970s and into the 1990s pedophile organisations continued to be part of the LGBT movement: In the UK the Pedophile Information Exchange was a member of the National Council for Civil Liberties (now simply “Liberty”) from at least 1978, with evidence it was still an active and welcome member of the organisation until 1983 when it was finally expelled.
Hay himself wore a sign emblazoned with "NAMBLA walks with me" as he participated in a 1986 gay pride march in Los Angeles after push-back to NAMBLA's inclusion in the event. There is evidence the organisation was present at , and even took part in the planning of, many pride marches across the US before this date and enjoyed a degree of support from LBGT organisations well into the 1990s.
This came into sharp relief in 1994 when the International Lesbian & Gay Association (ILGA) had its consultative status at the United Nations dropped due to NAMBLA and other pedophile organisations being members. NAMBLA was in fact the first US-based organization to be a member of the then International Gay Association and had maintained that status until the UN scrutinised its role.
The period of Hay’s activism laid down the principles, culture and style within LGBT activism that continues to this day: the idea that gay and lesbian people should not attempt to assimilate into the prevailing culture, but instead fight against it to forge their own strong, separate sexual identities outside of the morality (and legality) of polite society.
Harry was ardently anti-assimilation. ”Ever the Warrior / Gay rights icon Harry Hay has no patience for assimilation” reads a headline in SF Gate, this article again making no mention of his decades of pedophile activism. Hay's view was that gay people were an oppressed "social minority" or "cultural minority" patterned after Joseph Stalin's Marxist–Leninist concepts the “minority group” within a cultural or class struggle. The pervasive influence of radical Marxist ideas on LGBT activism goes beyond the scope of this article, but the idea that pedophiles also constitute an oppressed minority group is at the heart of many efforts for acceptance. Hay very much applied the same logic and tactics to his pedophilia activism as he did to his gay rights activism: that both groups are unfairly maligned by a prudish wider society.
In Hay we also find the pattern for permissiveness and hedonism that has come to define many people's image of “The LGBT community” as it stands today. He saw no limit to human sexuality & often railed against attempts to temper or moderate what he saw as absolute. To him pedophilia was merely the last taboo to be overcome in the face of a stuffy and conservative world. Right up until his death in 2002 Hay never apologised for—or rescinded—his statements on pedophilia, even as NAMBLA, the organisation he fiercely defended, were forced back underground he never showed any sign he even regretted supporting the abuse of children at the hands of adult gay men.
The modern identarian left argues that you cannot separate someone from their beliefs, the author from the work, the art from the artist—that many organisations and institutions are flawed and must be replaced because they were founded by racists or bigots. In their view, any form of ideological impurity renders a political enemy a fair game target. How then do they reconcile the fact that the modern gay rights movement was founded by an unapologetic pedophile, a man who went to his grave espousing the belief grown men should be able to have sex with young boys? How do they reconcile the fact that NAMBLA, the pedophile advocacy group Harry Hay helped establish, was only expelled from a leading LGBT advocacy group in 1994 after pressure from the United Nations?
If the original sin of the United States is slavery, then the original sin of the gay rights movement is pedophilia.
For better or worse, the personality and beliefs of Harry Hay are imprinted on the DNA of the LGBT movement: his anti-assimilation stance, his use of “gay” as a fully formed cultural & political identity rather than merely an expression of differing attraction and his ideas of complete sexual permissiveness beyond the boundaries of what society finds acceptable—often to an extreme degree—are woven into the fabric of LGBT activism.
If we are to judge ideas by their progenitors and movements by the personalities at their core, then perhaps LGBT activists would do well to look inwards towards their own troubling recent past. But as articles from The Guardian, The LA Times, The New York Times and a plethora of other mainstream and leftist news sources show, Hay’s pedophilia (and that of many others) has been whitewashed from LGBT history.
UPDATE: Spelling and grammar fixes with the help of Plasma Rob