The weather for Harry Hay’s 100th birthday celebration Saturday, April 7 in Silver Lake was fabulous, though the hike up the steep hill on Cove Avenue required considerable effort. Somehow, I think Harry would have appreciated that effort as a metaphor for what those early 1950s gay rights pioneers had to endure. But gathered at the top were gays and straights alike, there to dedicate “The Mattachine Steps” that lead to the historic meetings of the Mattachine Society, which Harry founded in November 1950. (Please check out remembrances of Harry by Mark Thompson and by me before the event.)
On hand for the dedication were L. A. City Councilmember and mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti, Assemblymember Mike Gatto (43rd AD), Silver Lake community activist and gay historian Wes Joe and perhaps most importantly for Harry and many of his friends – Stuart Timmons, author of Harry’s biography The Trouble with Harry Hay, which was updated with arduous, loving care by author Mark Thompson. Many were happy to see Stuart, who suffered a stroke in January 2008. Mark and his husband the Rev. Malcolm Boyd (also an icon), helped lead the ceremony.
In his remarks, Garcetti compared the gay rights history that happened in Silver Lake – starting with Harry Hay’s Mattachine Society and subsequently with the protest at the Black Cat bar – to be akin to the civil rights protests in Alabama. “Silver Lake is like Selma is the pages of history,” Garcetti said. “Imagine the moment when [these gay rights leaders] stepped forward bravely and publicly to say, ‘This is who we are.’”
Garcetti also cited John F. Kennedy’s “New Frontier” speech at the Democratic Convention in LA in 1960. In an excerpt from that speech, JFK said:
“…I stand here tonight facing west on what was once the last frontier. From the lands that stretch three thousand miles behind us, the pioneers gave up their safety, their comfort and sometimes their lives to build our new West. They were not the captives of their own doubts, nor the prisoners of their own price tags. They were determined to make the new world strong and free — an example to the world, to overcome its hazards and its hardships, to conquer the enemies that threatened from within and without.
Some would say that those struggles are all over, that all the horizons have been explored, that all the battles have been won, that there is no longer an American frontier. But I trust that no one in this assemblage would agree with that sentiment; for the problems are not all solved and the battles are not all won; and we stand today on the edge of a New Frontier… the frontier of unfilled hopes and unfilled threats…
The New Frontier is here whether we seek it or not.
Garcetti said, “ we are perched on the edge of what is possible: absolute and true equality….We will reach that promised land but not because of what we’ve done” – but by standing on the shoulders of others such as Harry Hay. After all the speeches, the gathering sang Happy Birthday to Harry.
Here are some photos from the celebration: