‘Bachelors for Wallace’
Lesbian, gay, bi and trans pride series part 35
Published May 26, 2005 4:14 PM
On Aug. 10, 1948, Harry Hay first formulated
the organizational and political call for what would become in just a few short
years the Mattachine movement for homosexual emancipation.
That was the
night that Ray Glazer—who wrote for both the left-wing People’s
Songs and for the popular radio program “Duffy’s
Tavern”—invited Hay to be one of 90 people at a public signing of
presidential hopeful Henry Wallace’s candidacy petition in California.
(Stuart Timmons, “The Trouble with Harry Hay”)
thrilled about Wallace’s campaign. Henry Agard Wallace was running for
president on the Progressive Party ticket against incumbent Democrat Harry
Truman and Republican Tho mas Dewey. Wallace had been Franklin D.
Roosevelt’s secretary of agriculture during the Depression and then vice
president from 1941 to 1945.
Wallace was still publicly championing the
“New Deal” reforms he helped craft for FDR’s
administration—economic concessions designed to save capitalism from a
potentially revolutionary movement of workers and oppressed people. As a
third-party candidate, he opposed the Cold War already begun by the right wing
of the U.S. capitalist class, which had emerged from World War II with military,
political and economic supremacy over the world.
The Communist Party USA
(CPUSA), of which Hay was an active leader, was putting its weight behind the
Wallace campaign. Some Democrats became enthused and were registering as
Progressives. And for many who hungered for progressive change, Wallace’s
slogan of faith in “the quietness and strength of grass”—the
grassroots—infused them with hope and energy.
In virtually every
campaign speech, Wallace denounced Jim Crow segregation—even in the rural
Deep South. Wallace spoke to 16,000 cheering people in Louisville, Ky., in
1947—the biggest unsegregated meeting ever held in that city.
(“Subversive Southerner,” Catherine Fosl)
Students for Wallace
at UCLA marched in protest against “whites only” barber shops near
the Westwood campus. (Timmons)
Bachelors for Wallace
night of Aug. 10, still exhilarated by the signing event, Hay went to a party in
which the two dozen guests were all men who he later said seemed to be “of
A French seminary student at the party asked if Hay
had heard about the recently published “Kinsey Report.” Hay himself
had been interviewed and become part of that study eight years earlier.
was a bit of a code for a male stranger to open up with talk about the Kinsey
Report. Timmons points out, “Its first volume, ‘Sexual Behavior in
the Human Male,’ was the season’s most talked-about book, especially
among homosexuals, with its claim that 37 percent of adult men had experienced
homosexual relations. To Harry, that newly revealed number suggested the
dimensions of an organizable minority. He voiced the idea. When his friend
protested that organizing homosexuals was impossible, Harry rebutted him. There
could be millions of people who might fall into a group that would find great
benefit in organizing. Certainly it would be difficult, but it was not
Others at the party were drawn to this debate. They
reportedly disagreed with Hay: “There was too much hatred of homosexuals.
Any individual who went public could be entrapped and discredited. There were
too many different kinds of homosexuals; they’d never get along. And
anyway, people belonging to such an organization would lose their
As Hay batted away at each argument, he reportedly became
more convinced himself that it was possible to organize homosexuals. He raised
the idea of creating a “fast bail” fund and seeking out progressive
attorneys for victims of anti-gay police entrapment. This was an important
concept, since getting caught in a sting operation by cops meant shelling out
lots of money to shady lawyers and crooked officials.
Hay also suggested
incorporating education about homosexuality in high school hygiene
Soon Hay was leading a discussion about building a gay male
organization to support Wallace’s presidential bid, which in turn might
win a sexual privacy plank in the Progressive Party platform. (John
D’Emilio, “Making Trouble”)
By then, Hay was winning
over some of his audience. They suggested some defiantly campy names, but Hay
put forward a more subtle one: “Bachelors for Wallace.”
still at the party, Hay wrote out all the ideas that had been discussed that
night about homosexual organizing on a sheet of butcher block
‘It was high time!’
Timmons offers the following detailed account of what Hay thought about and did
that night after the party.
As he drove home, Hay thought about how the
reactionary post-war period “was already of concern to many of us
progressives. I knew the government was going to look for a new enemy, a new
scapegoat. It was predictable.” African Americans were galvanizing a
movement for civil rights, buttressed by world horror at the mass extermination
of Jews by German fascism. But those he called “the Queers” would be
a natural scapegoat.
“They were the one group of disenfranchised
people who did not even know they were a group because they had never formed as
a group. They—we—had to get started. It was high
That night he sat up in his study writing two papers. The
first was a proposed plank for the Progressive Party platform. The second was a
proposal for an organization of gay men that could continue after the party
convention was over.
Timmons described the document concerning homosexual
organizing in some detail. “This second, much more elaborate paper, based
in a Marxist perspective, forged a principle that Hay had struggled years to
formulate: that homosexuals were a minority, which he temporarily dubbed
‘the Androgynous Minority.’”
Hay referred to the shared
characteristics of what
constitutes a nation to argue that homosexuals were
a cultural minority. Hay wrote, “I felt we had two of the four, the
language and the culture, so clearly we were a social
‘Some day a
Hay’s thinking in that document reflected the
profound impact of the fight against racism on a white activist. Being a gay man
whose sexuality made him an outlaw in every state, and who lived in fear of
police and right-wing violence, certainly magnified his rage against other forms
of inequality and injustice—particularly racism.
Hay often recounted
a trip he had made to a political conference in Chicago in May 1940 with a Black
married couple and a white man. En route, the four stopped at an all-night diner
in Gary, Ind. The waitperson poured coffee for Hay and the other white man, but
she balked at serving the African American woman and man. Instead, she dusted
off a little sign and placed it in front of the cash register. It read:
“We reserve the right to refuse service to customers whose patronage is
Hay and the other white man gave their coffee to their
friends, waited until their omelets arrived and then ground their meal checks
into the freshly-delivered meals. The four walked out, knocking over the racist
sign as they all left.
Years later Hay recalled vowing as he left the
restaurant, “Someday, someday, there’s going to be a reckoning if I
can help it.”
Hay also remembered being part of an anti-racist
protest in autumn 1945 in Silver Lake, Los Angeles, when Josephine Baker came to
town. The management at the Thistle Inn refused to seat some 50 to 60 luminaries
from Los Angeles’s African American community who were waiting for Baker
Hay described his excitement as those who were turned away
immediately set up a picket line outside the restaurant. And, he recalled, when
Baker and her entourage arrived, she immediately joined them in
One culture or many cultures?
Hay’s attempt to
compare homosexuals to African Americans as a “cultural minority”
demonstrated how powerful the Black movement was in the United States.
However, African peoples, who had come from many nationalities and
cultures with different languages, were forged into an oppressed nation by mass
kidnapping and chattel slavery historically imposed by the landowning class with
complicity from the captains of banking and commerce and industry.
others who wanted to struggle against the degrees of discrimination and
disenfranchisement that they experienced were inspired by the rising resistance
of African Americans, who had been blocked from achieving even basic equal
democratic rights with whites by the overturning of the revolutionary effort at
The period in which the CPUSA had recognized the
right of African Americans to self-determination as an oppressed
nation—including the right to a separate state in the South—must
surely have inspired Hay to consider that it was not a contradiction to fight
against oppression while waging the class struggle to overturn capitalism. In fact, fighting oppression is a prerequisite for building class unity.
Hay’s early formulation that
homosexuals were a cultural minority was also a political approach that in many
ways was aimed at answering the social current of opinion, voiced by the men at
the Aug. 10 party, which argued that homosexuals were not
“organizable” because they shared nothing in common except their
However understandable and well-meaning Hay’s
political equation was, attempts to compare gays, lesbians, bisexuals and trans
people as a group with oppressed nationalities as a political model—a
political equation which continues to this day among many in the modern LGBT
movement—has not brought greater theoretical clarity to the movement for
sexual and gender liberation. Where this view has not been dealt with
thoughtfully, it has done harm to solidarity with nationally oppressed peoples
as a whole.
In truth, homosexuals and bisexuals—female and
male—transsexual, gender variant and intersexual people, then and now,
belong to many diverse cultures and nationalities.
And they are
represented in every economic class in capitalist society. In this country, for
example, the vast numbers of men who are sexually and affectionally attracted to
other men are not all white and small-business owners or mega-rich—as they
are often divisively portrayed in the spin of the modern monopoly media
The overwhelming majority are from the laboring class—and
this is even more true for lesbian and bisexual women. And certainly the segment
of the transsexual and transgender population that is socially visible and
recognizable in the U.S. is particularly marginalized in the workforce, if able
to find work at all.
As workers they all have nothing to rely on to
survive economically but their own labor or that of their families—chosen
family as well as those related through patrilineal blood lines.
even among LGBT workers as a whole, those from oppressed
nationalities—Black, Latin@, Arab, Native, Asian—face a much
different social, political and economic reality overall based on inequality,
discrimination and other forms of institutionalized racism than do white LGBT
Cold War created fear of fascism
As Hay worked
throughout the night on his first manifesto, certainly easier to assess from
today’s historical vantage point, he farsightedly aligned the struggle of
“androgynes” with the left. However, he saw them uniting against
what he thought was the encroachment of fascism.
Timmons wrote, “He
suggested a comparison of the political manipulation and murder of homosexuals
in Nazi Germany to recent firings of gays by the State Department. This
particularly alarmed him; could what happened in Germany happen
Hay’s incorrect view that a fascist takeover was
looming was shaped by the CPUSA’s similar assessment. This led the party
to send its cadre underground and it also resulted in Hay later stressing the
need for Mattachine to be a clandestine organization.
In the statement Hay
worked on all night, he did emphasize that civil rights for homosexuals was a
struggle that would have an impact on the civil rights of all heterosexuals, as
well. He explained that “guilt of androgynity BY ASSOCIATION, equally with
guilt of Communist sympathy by association, can be employed as a threat against
any and every man and woman in our country as a whip to insure thought control
and political regimentation.”
In this very accurate line of
reasoning, he was sadly far ahead of the overall CPUSA leadership, which was
caught in the Cold War between the anvil of the “Red Scare” and the
hammer of the “Lavender Scare” without being able to politically arm
the movement against both forms of capitalist reaction.
Arguing that U.S.
laws were rooted in fundamentalist religion, Hay called for application to
homosexuals of international laws that he believed more broadly protected
overall human rights.
When the sun came up, Hay had signed this five-page
organizational outline and manifesto which he termed “the Call” with
his nom de guerre: Eann MacDonald. This original document was lost during the
1950s. (A version he revised and expanded on July 7, 1950, is included in
“Radically Gay: Gay Liberation in the Words of its Founder—Harry
Hay,” published by Beacon in 1996)
That morning, Aug. 11, Hay phoned
everyone from the party who had shown serious interest in this prospectus for
organizing homosexuals. But in the light of day, their hope for its possibility
burned off like the mist.
Hay described how during the next two years he
faced a “Catch 22” situation. When he approached progressive social
workers, teachers and ministers with his idea, they told him to come back when
he got a discussion group on his ideas underway. When he talked to
progressive-minded gays, they told him to get prominent support
“So—there it was!” he concluded. “I
couldn’t get a list of sponsors until I got a discussion group going, and
I couldn’t get a discussion group going until I had a committee of
It took two more years before Hay found one other person
who shared his vision. Once this “society of two” discovered each
other in 1950, the history of homosexual organizing in the U.S.
Next: Communists ignite dry tinder of material
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