Monday, January 3, 2011

“We, these elders, have become the real enemies of unity”

“We, these elders, have become the real enemies of unity”        

In the following selection,  written two years before the Stonewall riots, Hay offers a sharp critique of homophile leaders, arguing that a more activist posture is crucial to attracting a new generation to the movement. He hoped to inspire a round of self-criticism on the part of his peers, the homophile "elders," as he terms them. He had become convinced that room had to be made within the homophile movement for younger activists. In Los Angeles, this meant challenging two organizations, which had become locked into an ongoing rivalry - ONE, Inc., led bv W. Dart Legg, and Tangents (later the Homosexual Information Center), founded by Don Slater in 1965 after breaking with ONE (and taking most of the organization's library with him). Following this episode, nearly every local Gay issue was subordinated to the ongoing feud between ONE and HIC.1
Hay had become increasingly appalled by the bitter, sometimes vicious infighting that characterized homophile organizations.  This fractiousness was fostered, in his view, by the reliance on parliamentary procedures and majoritarian voting. Although Hay maintained open channels to both ONE and Tangents, remaining a unifying figure in Los Angeles, he vowed never to join an organization that relied on voting, but to advocate instead for the kind of consensus decision-making that the Mattachine founders had successfully employed for three years.
Hay had little to lose by referring to his generation – including Legg, Slater, and others - as "monsters" and "old aunties," terms certain to strike home among middle-aged Gay men. By this time Hay's harsh judgment of homophile groups and their leaders was widely shared. For younger Lesbians and Gay men the accommodationist stance of the older homophiles made them seem irrelevant, even obstructionist. In 1968, the delegates to the North American Conference of Homophile Organizations in Chicago politely conducted their debates according to Robert's Rules of Order; two weeks later Chicago police were brutalizing young antiwar activists in the same city's streets.
Although the problems of what I term the three D's - dissension, disrespect, and denunciation - are a frequent topic of discussion today among those active in community organizations and political groups, I find it surprising that they are not more often addressed in public forums and the Lesbian/Gay media.  I am sure many activists today would join me in wishing that the principles Hay advocates here would be adopted by the diverse elements of today's sexual minorities.

An Open Letter to All Homophile Organizations

Dear Friends:
Many fine men and women in positions of leadership in our numerous Homophile organizations and service groups have come increasingly to see the need to join their efforts by coalition in pursuit of their aims and goals along common fronts of similar but independent endeavors.
The increasing awareness, by an ill-prepared public, of homosexuality in its midst is already giving rise to those ominous oppositions that often crystallize in acts and legislation inimical to the well-being and healthy morale of our total society. Such blind oppositions ever threaten piece-meal destruction of non-unified minorities, making yet more urgent the call to Homosexual organizations to band together lest they be picked off one by one.
Yet in our movement toward one another as organizations, even though we have mounted with the most cautious optimism and with, very few expectations, we are appalled by the depth and extent of fear and mistrust of one another that appears the moment we try to join forces. The young and idealistic among us are filled by this with angry despair, while we who have engaged ourselves in Homophile organizations over the years dissipate our energies in futile plays for power alternating with bouts of stagnant self-pity and apathy. Such behaviors ill befit those in whom the disasters and failure of so many bright-eyed endeavors ought to have ripened into wisdom and serenity, with clearer perception of our goals and hopes and a richer knowledge of how to bend means to purposes.
We elders have not yet perceived that we must release ourselves from servile adulation of the now shoddy and worn self-images on which we have lavished our energies over the years. The heart of our Movement's present difficulties is that we elders, old now, are but wickedly wise – merely once vital, are now grown monstrous, blind and destructive.
What deflects the reach for unity in the Homophile Movement is neither the passion and impatience of the young nor the seeming reluctance and lack of response of the middle groups. It is rather the persistence, unabated, in us - the elders - of those pathetic faults and fears that took root in our generation under the terror of the McCarthy, anti-homosexual inquisitions - the paranoia, the unreasonable suspicions of everyone and everything, and the inflation of the ego that mounted, in compensation, in those who dared in such times to move forth in opposition.
We, these elders, who yet possessively grasp at positions of power and influence in our organizations, have become the real enemies of unity. The young of today are not as we were-they are far closer to one another; much more ready to extend the hand of fellowship. The middle groups meanwhile suffer in silence the anguish of our obscene struggles with one another, yearning for the day when they will break loose from our strangle-hold.
It is time we elders realize that we need not be such monsters. It is a very short step to one's mirror to see that we are in fact, only old aunties, wrinkles and bald pates and all. It is a very short step to get to where we truly are-moved on to the position of service where not our old resentments, not our outworn concepts, our now shoddy idealisms, our timidities, which are in the main all we have had to show as the product of our experience but the work, the work's the thing. Truly, we elders have little else left but to offer all that we are, all that we know, in the service of others.
Yet, this alone is not enough. In utmost humility, we must make prodigious amends. This letter is being written to commend, for your most earnest considerations, the anonymously proposed document (accompanying) which is an open recital of ways of the spirit that should never have had to be stated, being as they are the inmost guides of men and women of true maturity and integrity, in whom they lie too deep for words.
But unless we elders will drink the bitter cup of contrition by making an open espousal of, and giving our deepest inner allegiance to, the principles set forth in the accompanying document, we shall live to see our dreams, and the dreams of those far worthier than are we, wrenched and defiled beyond belief by counterforces of bigotry and unreason.


This document is in two parts. It consists of a summary and reminder of the purposes of our several organizations as they might relate to a proposed coalition of Homophile organizations. It proposes, secondly, a set of ethical guidelines which we will need to enable us to cooperatively work together.

Section I

Educational Purposes:
1. For too long we have accepted the opinions, the poorly authenticated studies, and misdirected inquiries of psychiatrists and others who argue that we are sick and, by implication, weak or evil. Only a few people in the scientific fields have found more rational ground for discourse and they are too seldom heard. It shall be our purpose to encourage research in the creative and constructive aspects of homosexuality while at the same time endeavoring to enlighten our fellow Homosexuals who may be victimized by the idea of sickness.
2. To discover unequivocating words and phrases for ourselves by which to clearly articulate what we have always known about the meanings and values of homosexuality, and to teach one another potentials of homosexuality as a basis for a creative way of life.
3. To provide our non-Homosexual fellow men and women with a clear understanding of these meanings and values and to extend to them their right and responsibility to aid us in making this contributive aspect still more truly and widely recognized.

Social Purposes:
1. To enable Homosexuals to establish and maintain for themselves in our society space for living in which to work and play as free citizens.

Reform Purposes:
1. To join with our fellow citizens to reform the laws which harmfully restrict the civil rights of all men and women in the sexual realm.
2.  To expose and correct the prevailing social mores which in the area of administrative and social codes harmfully restrict Homosexuals in their right to employment and advancement.

Purposes of Organizational Coalition:
While we rejoice in the wide range of diversity of character and purpose marking our organizations, and the individual persons they comprise, we nonetheless seek, through coalition of our Organizations, to further those aspects of the diverse aims and purposes which we can recognize as common to us all. We define coalition as a friendly and trusting collaboration of our organizations with each other in specific projects of common-front or united action.

Section II

Because we recognize that real and effective action in coalition is absolutely impossible without trust and confidence in one another, we wholeheartedly pledge ourselves, both as persons and as organizations, to be guided in our work by the following principles:

1. Each to respect the integrity and the underlying purpose and aims of all the others, withholding neither constructive criticism nor well-earned praise for the acts of others taken in pursuit of those aims.
2. Never in the spoken word nor in any of our publications to attack the character or the motives of those with whom we disagree, but always to restrict our criticisms solely to the argument or action with which we disagree.
3·To freely grant the right of any group or organization to choose not to participate in a course of action adopted by the majority, when the right is claimed before the course of action is crystallized and the reasons for the claiming of the right to refrain are candidly stated.
4 To present at all times to the non-Homosexual community a true picture of ourselves as joined in a common front.
5 In working with one another to discover and implement a specific course of action in coalition, to strive wholeheartedly and speedily to reach a level of agreement in regard to the action at issue. In order to do this we renounce, as far as is humanly possible, the inevitable desire that it be our plan that is exclusively adopted and our ego that is thereby gratified.
6. That we pay particular attention to our various publications and seek in all instances to have them conform with the ethical standards of responsible journalism, both in the areas of reporting and editorializing.
7. In asserting our purposes in Education and Reform we accept that an open and frank confrontation of the general public by ourselves as acknowledged Homosexuals is essential to our goals, and we charge all to support fully those who, to the ends of action in coalition, can and do accept the hazards of such exposure.  But such a role is imposed on no one and toward the secret or partly secret groups and organizations among us the freedom not to participate in public action is freely granted.

Signed Henry Hay. Published in Vector 3(6) (May 1967): 21, 25-26.

1. See Stuart Timmons, The Trouble with Harry Hay: Founder of the Modern Gay Movement (Boston: Alyson, 1990), pp. 215 ff.

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