CLAGS: Radically Gay, The Life & Visionary Legacy of Harry Hay, September 27-30, 2012

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Radically Gay: The Life & Visionary Legacy of Harry Hay

September 27-30, 2012, New York City

CLAGS: The Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies, City University of New York Graduate Center

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In celebration of the centennial of the birth of LGBT pioneer Harry Hay, CLAGS (the Center for Lesbian & Gay Studies at CUNY) and the Harry Hay Centennial Committee is holding a broad-reaching conference exploring key facets of LGBT life and their evolution over the last six decades.

Harry Hay’s life and his impact on LGBT history and culture were extraordinary, and the range of his activities was terrifically diverse.

In the 1930s and ‘40s, his involvement in progressive politics, avant-garde art, and the Communist Party all shaped and influenced his formulation of the idea that LGBT people were a distinct “cultural minority" who needed to become conscious of themselves as a people and organize for their own liberation.

With that insight, he co-founded the Mattachine Society in the 1950s and helped launch the modern LGBT liberation movement.

He was an organizer of the first Radical Faerie gathering in 1979 and remained an active participant and inspirational figure in LGBT movements until his death in 2002.

In addition, as a gay activist Hay committed himself to a larger progressive agenda, working in the anti-war movement, on behalf of Native Peoples, and within Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition.

As an intellectual, Hay devoted himself to anthropological and historical research about the origins and meaning of LGBT lives, social roles and consciousness. His research focused particular energy on two-spirit people among Native Americans and matrilineal cultures.

Given this rich array of interests, the conference organizers gather scholars, public intellectuals, activists, students, and artists who will take inspiration from Hay’s life and ideas in order to think together about several strands of LGBT living.

In particular, the conference will explore four central themes inspired by and reflective of Hay’s life and times: LGBT arts, political activism, spirituality and sexual identities.

The conference will explore:


· Significance of Mattachine and homophile political groups, their evolution, and relation to gay liberation activism
· Importance (or not) of homophile and other LGBT political leaders
· Sexuality on the Left
· LGBT radicalism and separatism vs mainstream politics and assimilation
· Coalition-building vs single-issue politics
· Youth as a political constituency
· Assessing LGBT organizing strategies and utopian goals
· Mapping an LGBT agenda for the 21st-century


Historical, cultural, and religious aspects of the Radical Faerie movement

· LGBT perspectives on religion, theology, and spirituality
· LGBT influence on, and conflicts with, mainstream and alternative religions
· Linking the spiritual and the sexual
· Politics of spirituality
· Connections to the natural world
· Queer mysticism, shamanism and spiritual practice
· Ancient roots of queer spirituality
· Native Peoples’ spiritualities


· Harry Hay’s artistic world: John Cage, Will Geer, Lester Horton, Leftist theater, etc.
· Past/present fears of LGBT artistic power (e.g. 1950s “homintern”)
· Representations of LGBT lives in contemporary/historical popular culture
· Past/present uses of art as tool of LGBT political activism (e.g. Gran Fury)
· Role of folk & popular music for political organizing (e.g. People’s Song)
· LGBT contributions to 20th-century avant-garde and popular arts
· Defining a queer aesthetic sensibility
· Studies of specific significant queer artists


· The evolving identities of LGBT/Queer/Questioning/Hetero-flexible/Trans People and others
· The meaning of gender in the LGBT world
· Homophile – Gay – Queer: differences, overlaps, and relations
· Lesbians & Gay men: past/present/future alliances and cleavages
· Class and socioeconomic issues within LGBT organizing
· Transgender inclusions/exclusions
· Queer archetypes
· Meaning of “gay consciousness”
· Identity as “natural,” “historical,” or “learned”
· Two-spirit tradition and alternative gender roles in non-Western cultures
· The future of sexual identities