The Dangers of Praising Harry Hay

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  January 5, 2010 — 15 Comments

If you pay attention to the political blogs, you may have heard about the ongoing controversy concerning Kevin Jennings, Assistant Deputy Secretary for the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools at the U.S. Department of Education. Jennings, who co-founded the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), has been bombarded with accusations from the right-leaning blogosphere. That he (through GLSEN) promotes porn in the classroom (a claim that has been debunked), that he had covered up a statutory rape (proven untrue and retracted), and that he is/was a pedophile (also proven untrue and retracted). Having been unable make any of these accusations stick and create the necessary controversy that would bring about a resignation or dismissal, they are now combing through any statement he has made that could link him to their idea of who Jennings is (a perverted corrupter of youth unfit for a Department of Education job). Enter gay rights pioneer Harry Hay.

“Harry Hay, who “inspired” Obama-appointed Education Department official Kevin Jennings to lead a life of homosexual activism, was not only a supporter of the North American Man-Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) but a prominent member of the Communist Party USA  and “Radical Faerie” who believed in the power of the occult. Hay’s influence is relevant not only because Jennings is a top Education Department official, but because Hay is considered by homosexuals to be the founder of their movement. A Stalinist and Marxist until the day he died, Hay defended NAMBLA’s participation in “gay rights” marches and its membership in the International Lesbian and Gay Association.”

Wow! Jennings, like his inspiration, must support NAMBLA, the Radical Faeries, and communism? Well, not really.

“In fact, Jennings’ praise of Hay has only “led to questions” among those determined to mischaracterize that praise. Jennings praised Hay’s role in helping start “the first ongoing gay rights groups in America” in 1948, which has nothing to do with NAMBLA. (Just as unacceptable to Kincaid, it appears, is that Hay was also “a prominent member of the Communist Party USA and ‘Radical Faerie’ who believed in the power of the occult.”)”

The truth is that sometimes noteworthy activists have flaws and feet of clay. People can do something you admire, like starting one of the first gay rights organizations, and then later do something you completely disagree with, like calling for the inclusion of NAMBLA in gay rights parades. I bring this up, because I’ve indirectly praised Hay, along with his partner John Lyon Burnside III, for their work in founding the Radical Faeries.

“Needless to say, the Radical Faeries have had a huge impact on Gay Pagan spirituality, and the movement has done much to help integrate Gay voices into the wider Pagan community since the early 1980s*. Burnside, along with Hay and other pioneers in the Gay spirituality movement, have left an indelible mark on Gay and Pagan culture.”

Does this mean I also support NAMBLA or pedophilia? Of course not. The notion is absurd, but that’s the kind of logic that is being thrown around here. Kevin Jennings is not into “the occult” because he praised a RadFae co-founder, any more than I’m transphobic for acknowledging the work Mary Daly has done in furthering feminist theology. Has our political discourse become so tainted and mean-spirited that anyone we praise or acknowledge must be blemish-free lest we risk being associated with any controversial word or deed they have committed? If so, I know a lot of Pagans that are in trouble, because I’m not the only one who has praised the work of Harry Hay.

Jason Pitzl-Waters