Friday, May 11, 2012

SF Public Library:
Radically Gay Harry Hay & NAMBLA

The San Francisco Public Library currently has a terrific exhibit on display, Radically Gay: The Life of Harry Hay, all about the work and legacy of the American gay community's great-grandfather. Curated by former longtime executive director of SF Pride, Joey Cain, the show is housed in the Jewett Gallery in the lower lobby of the main library at Grove and Larkin Streets.

Using photos, private letters and public newsletters, artifacts such as the tea set Hay's mother used to serve tea with during Mattachine Society meetings and a kaleidoscope invented by his lover John Burnside. It's an impressive array of items documenting decades of personal and political homosexual history.

Also included in the show is a photo of Hay marching at the 1986 Los Angeles gay pride parade wearing a cloth sign reading "NAMBLA Walks With Me", before the pride organizers and cops forced him to remove his message before joining the parade.

A note for the photo provides details about Hay's views on the controversial group:

Until the end of his life Harry stood up for the right of NAMBLA to march in the LGBT Parades. His support was predicated on two deeply held convictions. One was the belief that the gay movement should not be throwing any element of the community under the bus in order to gain 'respectability' with and acceptance by the hetero world. The other was his support for young gay boys, 'our younger gay brothers', and their right to choose when and with whom they had sex. In this he drew on his own experience at age 14, with Matt the 24-year-old man he met on the steamer tramp from San Francisco to Los Angeles with whom he made love and opened Harry's eyes to the beautiful vision of a 'silent brotherhood' that stretched around the world. Conversely, Harry believed that greatest, as yet unprosecuted, child sex abuse crime was the forcing of gay kids by parents and churches compulsory heterosexuality, leading to self-hatred, depression, destroyed lives and suicide.

For insight and understanding about Hay embracing many unpopular causes and various accomplishments that advanced gay liberation, read the excellent assessment and appreciation of the man and his legacy written by gay intellectual Michael Bronksi. His essay appeared in 2002 after Hay died in the Boston Phoenix.

Kudos to the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library and the James C. Hormel Gay and Lesbian Center of the library for sponsoring the exhibit, which is up until July 29. 

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