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Radically Gay.

Although Harry Hay is the founder of gay liberation, his name meant nothing to me. I had assumed the Stonewall riot in 1969 was the instant when gay people first insisted in loud voices that their sexuality was beautiful. Then, last year, I began to hear about Hay, who had been noisily proclaiming the beauty of his sexuality for twenty years prior to Stonewall. In l 950 he started the first modern gay-rights organization, the Mattachine Society.

In October, Hay himself came to Madison. Ornamented in a cascading pearl necklace and one dangling earring (one ear, he informed us, was "for hearing, the other for decoration"), he read aloud some of the more controversial passages from his new book, Radically Gay (Beacon). Then Hay attempted to start a discussion of his ideas, in the style of the consciousness-raising forums he had introduced to the Mattachine Society.

Members of the audience resisted Hay's efforts to rile them into political talk. They seemed to prefer tamer, more distant subjects like, "What was life like before Mattachine?" But Hay is anything but an artifact. He is one eighty-six-year-old activist who will not sit still.

Indeed, although Radically Gay is in some ways a historical document--the book is a collection of political writings spanning nearly five decades of Hay's activism--it also intends to move us toward action.

Hay got his political start in the Communist Party and the visionary coalition politics of the Popular Front, when the Communists aligned themselves with civil-rights and labor organizations in an attempt to fend off fascism in Europe and to support Roosevelt's New Deal. Hay borrowed easily from Communism to define gays and lesbians as "a cultural minority," one of his most influential creations.

Though he gave much of his energy to the emerging gay movement, Hay has never been a single-issue radical. He believed a transformed world--one that would make possible full equality for all people-was necessary to any real lesbian and gay freedom.

Since Hay's book is mostly made up of political tracts and speeches, rather than well-wrought essays, it is not an easy read--though Will Roscoe's skillful editing helps. But Radically Gay is an immersion into what Hay once called "a vision-quest more important than life." And the book is instructive, offering a helpful analysis of the sorts of issues--such as assimilation versus liberation--that tend to divide movements for social justice, including the current lesbian and gay movement in the United States.

Most compelling, from my perspective, is Hay's long vision. His is a politics of endurance and hope. Hay started the Mattachine Society at a time when it was illegal, and dangerous, to be a homosexual (during his reading, Hay told how he and other Mattachine members hid the telephones they suspected might be bugged under pillows and in bureau drawers during meetings).

He hasn't let up. "Don't be placating," he told us, as if there were no more insulting adjective in the English language.
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Author:Cusac, Anne-Marie
Publication:The Progressive
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1997
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