Harry Hay tried to 'close chapter' on his gayness
Lesbian, gay, bi and trans pride series part 33
Published May 4, 2005 5:15 PM
In 1938, Harry Hay—only a decade away
from launching the first mass political movement for homosexual emancipation in
the United States—married a woman comrade in the Communist Party USA
Since the CPUSA at that time did not allow openly homosexual
members, it would be easy to jump to the conclusion that Hay, a member of the
CPUSA, felt so isolated as a gay man that he married merely in order to hide his
sexuality inside the organization.
But Hay knew he wasn’t the only
gay party member. He wrote, “I knew a number of Black and white men from
the performing arts in the Communist Party who were gay, but the Party
didn’t seem to suspect. I realized that since they weren’t that
unnoticeable, certain Party people saw the necessity of tolerating and covering
for them.” (Stuart Timmons, “The Trouble with Harry
Simply attributing the pressure towards heterosexual marriage
to the CP’s internal policy removes the historical context. Outside the
party, homosexuality was illegal; state regulation of sexuality was enforced by
police entrapment and raids, imprisonment and institutionalization.
biographer Timmons succinctly summed up, “Marriage was common for both
male and female homosexuals of Harry’s generation. The most famous modern
homosexual, Oscar Wilde, was married with children. Matrimony, in one of
Harry’s more philosophical letters, seemed ‘the casting couch for
As historian Jim Kepner noted, “In the
forties, for many gays who wanted to be socially productive, marriage was a
necessity.” While there were a few professions in which a gay man might
remain unmarried—dance, design, dressmaking—those were not political
hot spots of organizing.
Harry Hay was an organizer who wanted to be in
the thick of the working-class struggle.
‘If only she’d
been a boy!’
In the late 1930s, Hay had talked to psychologist
Dr. Saul Glass, while taking part in Glass’s experiment that sought
physiological markers for same-sex love. Hay was part of a control group whose
blood and urine was compared to that of gay/bi/trans prisoners held in the
“Fruit Tank” of the county jail.
Hay lamented to Glass that
he felt hopeless “in not being able to find a flower-faced boy who was a
Marxist like me, who would stand with me in the class struggle against
Glass’s suggestion was creative, within the
confines of accommodation to oppression: “Maybe instead of a girlish boy,
you’re looking for a boyish girl.”
Hay recalled, “He
told me that all I needed to do to change my orientation was to deliberately
close one book and open another.”
Shortly afterward, Hay was drawn
to Anita Platky. She was a 6-foot tall, strong-jawed athletic woman described by
some as “boyish.” And much to the dismay of Hay’s well-to-do
Catholic family, Platky was Jewish.
Timmons wrote, “Harry told Anita
about his homosexual past. She assured him she understood, that she already knew
several men who were ‘that way.’ At least one of Anita’s few
boyfriends before Harry had also been gay.”
The two marched in the
same demonstrations, walked the same picket lines, and shared the same hatred of
oppression and the same commitment to the socialist future of humanity.
So in 1938, Harry Hay and Anita Platky exchanged wedding vows. At the
request of the couple, the ceremony left out any “God stuff.”
They remained married for 13 years. Hay said, “Anita and I loved
each other dearly and had a wonderful time doing anything together. We rarely
quarreled because I usually understood her point of view. Most of her family and
friends thought we were a perfect match—I never looked at another woman.
(But oh the men!)”
Timmons concluded, “Harry once said, with
awkward sincerity, ‘If she had been a boy, we would still probably be
Learning communication skills
1939, the couple moved to New York and as communists became immersed in the
In 1940 they were part of the many thousands who marched
through the streets on May Day. Hay described, “Everyone was singing the
Leftist anthem, the ‘Bandiera Rossa Trionfera.’ It echoed through
the canyons of the city. People were hanging out of windows singing. You’d
really think the whole of Manhattan had signed up with the Party.”
Hay was assigned to the Artists and Writers branch of the New York CP.
He became interim head of the New Theater League in 1941. This trade
union theater staged actual shop floor battles that workers had fought in order
to educate and organize.
Harry explained that as workers successfully
organized their shops into unions, “Somebody would eventually say,
‘Jeeze, somebody ought to write a play about what we went though. …
If we told our story, other shops could learn from us.’”
organized a fund-raising concert for the theater effort that brought the
legendary blues singer Leadbelly, Aunt Molly Jackson, the famous voice of the
Harlan County coal workers’ struggle, and others to the Auto
Workers’ Hall in lower Manhattan.
Hay taught acting to workers in
unions, including the Longshore, Cooks and Stewards, and Bus Drivers unions.
Timmons concluded, “In their classes, people often re-enacted actual
confrontations with their bosses, living out the idea of shops learning from one
“So Harry joined the clan of theater
teachers, from whose distinctive bag of communications tricks he would draw
heavily in his future activism.”
Next: Turning to struggle and
history for answers.
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