Harry Hay’s Essentialism

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“We are a Separate People, with, in several measurable respects, a rather different window on the world, a different consciousness which may be triggered into being by our lovely sexuality.”
Harry Hay, 1983

 

HARRY HAY’S FIRST FORAY into gay activism was his attempt to organize homosexuals on behalf of a politically progressive candidate in 1948. Two years later, he would find a like-minded other—Rudi Gernreich—with whom he would create the most important homosexual organization of its time, the Mattachine Society. The name referred to a Renaissance European folk dance and spoofing social satire called “Les Mattachines,” performed in France by fraternities of what Harry Hay’s gaydar sensed were bands of gay brothers in Renaissance France (sociétés joyeuses). In effect, Harry—who always wanted to be known by his first name—was conscientiously promoting what would later be called an “essentialist” idea about homosexuals as early as in 1948. This provided the spiritual glue needed to sustain a movement.

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