[Note: After zomblog's previous post about Safe Schools Czar Kevin Jennings' misguided praise of NAMBLA supporter Harry Hay, the advocacy group Media Matters has attempted to extinguish the story, issuing a series of press releases dismissing the allegations as "smears." And so my second memo is addressed directly to Media Matters themselves.]
Media Matters –
You have recently assumed the attack-dog role in the Jennings/Hay/NAMBLA scandal, releasing a nonstop barrage of announcements condemning what you characterize as “right-wing smears.” Before you continue down this road, pause to consider the consequences of this strategy.
|The sign Harry Hay carried at the 1986 L.A. Gay Pride Parade (full photo below).|
Don’t you understand that your efforts are counter-productive?
Why are you taking actions that will damage Kevin Jennings’ career and get the Obama administration entangled in an embarrassing scandal?
While some of the right-wing posts you cite (which you set up as strawmen to knock down) do indeed go overboard in their criticism of Jennings, that doesn’t mean that all the evidence in this case can be accurately dismissed as “smears.” Because at the core of the scandal, there are some very inconvenient facts which cannot be wished away (see below).
By advising Jennings to dig in his heels on a story that is only bound to grow in intensity, you are only exacerbating the problem. Enough evidence has already emerged (with more to surely emerge in the near future) that you should recognize the need for Jennings and the Obama administration to enter “crisis management mode”: In other words, they should get in front of the story, apologize, acknowledge mistakes, and vow to never repeat them.
Furthermore, your defense of Jennings is so weak, and so easily debunked, that you have now put your own reputation on the line, not just Kevin Jennings’.
But it’s not too late. I invite you, Media Matters, to join me in encouraging Kevin Jennings to make a public statement condemning Harry Hay in no uncertain terms, and to retract his earlier praise of him. Any action short of that — especially denying that the scandal has any substance at all — will only make the crisis grow.
Since almost all of the pro-Obama blogs which have covered this story have entirely relied on Media Matters’ supposed rebuttals as the final conclusive word on this scandal, we should look at your rebuttals more closely; and in so doing, we see that they are much, much flimsier than the accusations they claim to be debunking.
Out of all Media Matters’ bulletins on this scandal, in fact only two have any substance: they are called
Stripped of their overheated language, both rebuttals can be summarized with the following four points:
1. When Kevin Jennings gave his speech praising Harry Hay, he didn’t know that Hay supported NAMBLA.
2. Kevin Jennings was praising the admirable side of Harry Hay, not the reprehensible side of Harry Hay.
3. None of the mainstream media’s obituaries of Harry Hay mentioned his NAMBLA connections, therefore he must not have been a bad guy after all.
4. Harry Hay once said he wasn’t an actual member of NAMBLA.
All of these points are rather feeble arguments and can be easily counter-rebutted. Let’s look at each in turn:
Media Matters’ Attempted Rebuttal #1:
When Kevin Jennings gave his speech praising Harry Hay, he didn’t know that Hay supported NAMBLA.
As also pointed out on Professor Warren Throckmorton’s blog, Jennings chose a chapter from the 1990 book The Trouble with Harry Hay, by Stuart Timmons, to include in the 1994 anthology Becoming Visible, which Jennings compiled and edited. This means that it is beyond doubt that Jennings had read The Trouble with Harry Hay, since he would have no other way of knowing which chapter to select for republication in his own book. Yet The Trouble with Harry Hay contains a section about Hay’s support of NAMBLA. So by the time Jennings gave his “I was inspired by Harry Hay” speech in 1997, he must have known full well that Hay supported NAMBLA, having learned it from reading the Timmons book (if he hadn’t already known about the connection earlier).
To make this a little clearer, let’s break it down into a timeline:
1990 - Stuart Timmons writes and publishes a biography of Hay called The Trouble with Harry Hay. The book contains a section about Hay’s connection to NAMBLA.
1993/4 - Kevin Jennings reads The Trouble with Harry Hay, in order to choose which chapter about Hay he wants to include in an anthology he’s putting together called Becoming Visible.
1994 - Jennings purposely chooses a section about Hay which doesn’t mention NAMBLA, and republishes it in Becoming Visible.
1994 - Jennings also writes an introduction to the Hay chapter in his book, as well as several study questions about Hay, in both of which he pointedly makes no mention of the NAMBLA connection he learned of from reading The Trouble with Harry Hay.
1997 - Despite his knowledge of Harry Hay’s NAMBLA support, Jennings praises him in a speech in which he said that Hay had “always inspired” him.
The only conclusion one can reach from this is that by 1997 Kevin Jennings knew of Harry Hay’s involvement with NAMBLA — yet praised him anyway.
As mentioned in an update to my earlier memo, Kevin Jennings’ book Becoming Visible — about the history of gay activism, including an entire chapter about Harry Hay — is partly searchable on Amazon: Click here for a link to the Amazon “Peek Inside” feature for the book, and scroll to its table of contents. Or click here or on the small image to the right to see a clear screenshot of the book’s Table of Contents, including the chapter on Harry Hay.
I have scanned several pages from Jennings’ Becoming Visible as proof that a. The book contains a chapter about Harry Hay; b. Kevin Jennings wrote the introduction to that chapter, as well as the study questions about the chapter; and c. The book and the questions are intended for high school students to read. Rather than clog up this essay with a lot of very large images, I will instead link to them here:
Scans from the book Becoming Visible:
Page 162: The first part of Kevin Jennings’ introduction to the Harry Hay chapter.
Page 163: The conclusion of Jennings’ introduction, and the first portion of the Hay chapter itself.
Page 16: Author’s note from Jennings saying he provided the introduction.
Page 17: Jennings saying the study questions are addressed to students for in-class assignments.
Page 178: Jennings’ study questions about Harry Hay.
Page 179: More study questions about Harry Hay.
Page 180: Conclusion of study questions about Harry Hay.
How can you compile and edit a book that includes an extensive chapter about Harry Hay — a chapter for which you wrote the introduction and study questions — and then later claim complete ignorance of Harry Hay’s past? Especially considering that you are known as a leading scholar of the history of gay activism?
And it should be noted that everything Jennings wrote about Harry Hay in this book portrays him in a positive light. In the book, he doesn’t write specifically that Hay inspired him, but it’s obvious if you read the book itself that Jennings is holding up Harry Hay as a role model.
The final link in this chain of evidence is proof that the book The Trouble with Harry Hay did in fact mention Hay’s connection to NAMBLA. Since we know that Kevin Jennings must have read this book in 1993 0r 1994, if we can show that the book discusses Hay’s support of NAMBLA, then it’s beyond any doubt that Jennings knew of it. And we can indeed provide the proof:
First of all, these two photographs were included in the book, showing Harry Hay’s front and back signs at the 1986 Los Angeles Gay Pride Parade. But the photos were not given without context: accompanying text explained in detail how Hay came to NAMBLA’s defense at the parade, something which (according to the book) became famous as “The Harry Hay Incident.” (Valerie Terrigno was a scandal-rocked politician who was also excluded from the parade, as was NAMBLA.)
Here are photos of some relevant pages from The Trouble with Harry Hay, in which the author discusses some of Hay’s connections to NAMBLA:
Photos from the book The Trouble with Harry Hay:
Page 295: Description of “The Harry Hay Incident” and his support of NAMBLA (first part)
Page 296: Description of “The Harry Hay Incident” and his support of NAMBLA (second part)
Photo insert (center of book): Picture (same as the one shown above) of Harry Hay in his “I Walk With NAMBLA” sign, including identifying caption.
Want more? OK.
There’s also strong circumstantial evidence that Jennings almost certainly learned of Hay’s involvement in NAMBLA another way, also in 1994:
According to numerous sources (including for example the Queer Resources Directory and Gay Today; any number of additional links describing the incident can be found on this search results page), Harry Hay got into a very public spat with major mainstream gay organizations over their planned decision to ban NAMBLA from marching in the “Stonewall 25″ pride march in New York on June 26, 1994. Hay, who was slated to be honored as one of the celebrities in the march, instead insisted that NAMBLA be included in the celebration. When Hay was snubbed and NAMBLA was banned despite his objections, Hay broke away from the organizers and formed his own group called Spirit of Stonewall, which then proceeded to march in the parade with NAMBLA anyway — to the great chagrin of the march’s organizers and the larger gay community. This back-and-forth fight between Hay/NAMBLA and the mainstream of gay activists lasted for months and was a major topic of discussion in the gay community, especially among gay political activists living in New York. (Hay also wrote about this incident extensively in his own autobiography, which we will look at later in this memo.)
So: What does any of this have to do with Kevin Jennings? Well, according to his own autobiography, Mama’s Boy, Preacher’s Son, Kevin Jennings was himself living in New York at the time, and was deeply involved in gay activism and politics. (The passage in question occurs on pages 211, 212, and 213 of the book. Click on the following links to see scans of those pages taken directly from Mama’s Boy, Preacher’s Son in which Jennings discusses at length his presence and activities in New York in 1994: page 211, page 212, page 213.) Considering that the Hay/NAMBLA spat was a hot topic in Jennings’ professional and personal circles, it seems extremely likely that he at least became aware of it at the time. Which means that a full three years before he gave his speech praising Harry Hay, Jennings again knew of Hay’s defense of NAMBLA.
Media Matters’ Attempted Rebuttal #2:
Kevin Jennings was praising the admirable side of Harry Hay, not the reprehensible side of Harry Hay.
Assessment: ILL-ADVISED BLUNDER
If someone told you they really admired Adolf Hitler, you would naturally assume that they had Nazi sympathies. But if that same person later told you, “No, you misunderstand, I don’t admire Hitler because he was a Nazi: I admire him because of his love for dogs! Boy, that guy sure did love his dogs,” you probably would still harbor suspicions that something was amiss.
I use this rather hackneyed comparison not because I think Harry Hay was like Hitler, but rather because because in our modern hierarchy of moral turpitude the only thing that equals supporting the Nazi Party is promoting pedophilia. And even if you truly did admire Hitler solely for his love of dogs, and not for his other actions, you’d be an absolute fool to walk around praising him to strangers. Because they’d inevitably assume the worst. In a similar vein, if you publicly announce your admiration for someone known to vigorously promote pedophilia — well, what do you expect the public to think? You can’t separate the two halves of Harry Hay and say you were inspired by his good side and make no mention of his bad side. Some beliefs and actions are so beyond the pale that they overwhelm and contaminate anything else the person might have done, and make him off-limits to declarations of admiration.
And this goes straight to the heart of the matter. Even if Kevin Jennings only praised Harry Hay for his earlier activism, it’s still a major public relations blunder. The American public no more wants their Safe Schools Czar to praise a known pedophilia supporter than they want their military commanders to express admiration for Osama bin Laden (”No, really, I meant I was just inspired by the stylish way he trims his beard!”).
And if you think that this is all just a misunderstanding, then why don’t you join me in calling for Kevin Jennings to clarify matters by denouncing Harry Hay and disassociating himself from Harry Hay’s beliefs? Jennings could put a stop to the Hay scandal in a flash if he just took this simple step — which is exactly what I advised in my first memo. Instead, you, Media Matters, have now become part of the problem, because by defending Jennings in his silence, you are only serving to prolong the scandal. Ignoring it won’t make it go away. Criticizing and maligning anyone who points out easily verifiable facts only makes it look like Jennings has something to hide.
This whole affair is nothing but a misundertanding? Then let Jennings come out and say so. Don’t encourage him in his career-threatening silence. The longer he remains mute on this issue, the more the public’s uneasiness will grow.
Hay’s support of NAMBLA was only one of many potentially embarrassing aspects to his life and career which led many mainstream gay advocacy groups to distance themselves from him. Among them were the revelation that Hay’s Mattachine Society was based on Stalinist principles and was consciously organized like a communist “cell”; that his later “Radical Faerie” movement — which promoted Native American spirituality as the “correct” religion for all gays — was in fact based on faulty and flawed scholarship; and Hay’s relentless insistence that gay culture was not just equal to “straight” culture but was actually superior.
But above all, Harry Hay famously clashed with mainstream gay groups over his support of NAMBLA. Hay wanted NAMBLA to be included in the “big tent” of gay umbrella organizations; he wanted NAMBLA to be encouraged to march publicly at gay pride events; and he lashed out at gay groups which shunned pedophiles, which Hay saw as surrendering to oppressive mainstream social expectations.
In this battle against Hay were arrayed any number of leading gay rights groups, including ILGA (the International Lesbian/Gay Association, the largest gay rights organization in the world). And yet, just a short time after a major public spat between ILGA and Harry Hay (at the 1994 Stonewall 25 march), Keving Jennings announced in a speech that he was especially inspired by Harry Hay — thereby choosing sides in the conflict and rejecting ILGA’s position (of ostracizing Hay and NAMBLA) and instead embracing Hay and what he stood for.
This was a risky and ill-advised proclamation to make in 1997, and it remains even moreso today. If Kevin Jennings wants to maintain his political viability, he needs to retract his earlier words, and “throw Harry Hay under the bus,” metaphorically speaking. And every ounce of effort that you, Media Matters, spend on trying to defend Jennings’ position only makes the situation worse, day by day.
Media Matters’ Attempted Rebuttal #3:
None of the mainstream media’s obituaries of Harry Hay mentioned his NAMBLA connections, therefore he must not have been a bad guy after all.
Assessment: SPURIOUS ARGUMENT
This is perhaps the most ludicrous of your excuses. Just because mainstream media outlets chose to conveniently ignore a fact and sweep it under the rug doesn’t mean the fact disappears. As I conclusively demonstrated in my previous memo, there’s absolutely no question that Hay was not just a NAMBLA supporter, but that his support of NAMBLA was well-known in New York, so that the omniscient New York Times certainly knew of his affiliation — yet chose to bury the info. They were too busy joining the push to canonize Harry Hay, as were Kevin Jennings and many other activists seeking to construct a new political hero.
But even though the New York Times and other major papers to their eternal shame chose to glorify a NAMBLA supporter, that doesn’t mean all papers joined the conspiracy of silence. For example, an excellent 2002 obituary of Hay in the Boston Phoenix headlined “The Real Harry Hay” chastised mainstream media outlets and gay rights groups for glossing over Hay’s well-known NAMBLA connections. After describing some of Hay’s seriously problematic ideas and actions, including his “notorious promiscuity” and “rabid communism,” the author writes,
“In death, though, Harry Hay’s critics have finally been able to do what they couldn’t do when he was alive: make him presentable. … Neither of the long and laudatory obits in the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times mentioned his unyielding support for NAMBLA.”
The author then notes his own observation of Hay once at a party, saying that instead of a legendary champion of civil rights as he had been expecting, Hay
“came across as nothing but a cantankerous old queen who was more interested in speculating about what some of the younger party guests would be like in bed than discussing the connections between 1950s communism and gay-community organizing.”
The mainstream media no longer has a stranglehold on the national dialogue nor on the spigot of truth, and citing their conformity to a particular deception in no way legitimizes that deception.
Media Matters’ Attempted Rebuttal #4:
Harry Hay once said he wasn’t an actual member of NAMBLA.
Media Matters, you cite in both of your press releases a statement by Harry Hay printed in the Fall 1994 issue of the Gay Community News in which he says, “I am not a member of NAMBLA.” But whether or not Hay was an official “member” of NAMBLA is completely beside the point, because it’s beyond any doubt that Hay was NAMBLA’s #1 public supporter and advocate, who himself called for the normalization of “man/boy love.” (In fact, it’s not clear that NAMBLA even maintains an official membership list; and if they did, they certainly wouldn’t make it public — so there’s no way to verify Hay’s claim.) With the advent of sophisticated search tools on the Internet, it takes less than a minute for anyone to uncover the extensive connections between NAMBLA and Harry Hay — official member or no official member. The links to NAMBLA pages mentioning Harry Hay which I provided in my earlier report were just the tip of the iceberg. A simple search for Harry Hay’s name on the NAMBLA domain reveals many more examples of articles by or about Hay on the NAMBLA site, in all of which he expresses his approval of intergenerational sex between pubescent boys and older men. So it becomes a futile exercise for you to try to discount or downplay Hay’s defense of pedophilia (or pederasty, to use the precise word), since it can be easily documented.
Above in this memo I linked to a press release written by Harry Hay in 1994 and still preserved at the Queer Resources Directory. It might be a good idea for you to read what Harry Hay actually had to say about NAMBLA before you rush to his defense with a technicality about whether of not he was a dues-paying member. These are Harry Hay’s own words — decide for yourself if Harry Hay was a NAMBLA supporter:
Spirit of Stonewall (SOS) calls on Stonewall 25 and the gay and lesbian movement to return to its roots. The Christopher Street uprising was an outcry by those at the bottom and on the margins of society against puritanical self-righteousness and bigotry. It was a cry for full sexual liberation as part of the struggle for social justice. Stonewall was the spontaneous action of marginal people oppressed by the mainstream — of teenaged drag queens, pederasts, transsexuals, hustlers, and others despised by respectable straights and “discreet” homosexuals. They did not call for their rights, they seized their own freedom. They did not ask for integration into middle-class America, they screamed against its pretensions of propriety.
SOS is an ad hoc committee of lesbian, gay and other individuals and groups formed to bring Stonewall 25 back to the principles of gay liberation. We focus on one of the most glaring departures from those principles: the attempt to exclude the North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA), and possibly other groups, from the Stonewall 25 March and from their place within gay/lesbian space and discourse.
Red-baiting, scapegoating, censorship and exclusion have been hallmarks of American society. Just as unions, the civil rights and peace movements were pressured to cleanse themselves of suspected “communists,” the lesbian/gay movement is now expected to rid itself of social misfits, the vulnerable pederasts first of all. Never before has such an ostensibly progressive movement jumped so quickly through the hoops of its enemies. …
We find this the height of hypocrisy - to invoke the name of Stonewall to cast out the alleged molesters among us. The issue is not, first of all, intergenerational sex - although that is one the movement needs to confront honestly rather than avoid. SOS takes no stand specifically on age of consent laws or sex between adults and those deemed legally “children.”…
NAMBLA’s record as a responsible gay organization is well known…. NAMBLA believes the interests of young people demand not paternalistic protection, but empowerment to make real choices. Every organization within Stonewall 25 need not endorse every one of the other organization’s positions. NAMBLA’s call for the abolition of the age of consent is not the issue. NAMBLA is a bona fide participant in the gay and lesbian movement. NAMBLA deserves strong support in its rights of free speech and association and its members’ protection from discrimination and bashing.
SIGNED: Harry Hay, Pat Califia, Gayle Rubin, Chris Bearchelli, Scott O’Hara, Charley Shively, David Thorstad, Tom Reeves, Jim Becker
By all accounts, Hay was the primary author of this document, which is why his name is listed first. (Click the link above to read the full press release.)
Remember that in my earlier Memo to Kevin Jennings, I ascertained that:
• Harry Hay gave speeches and presentations at several NAMBLA conventions
• Harry Hay hosted panel discussions at NAMBLA meetings
• Harry Hay wrote a blurb for a book published by NAMBLA
• Harry Hay marched either with or in support of NAMBLA in gay pride parades
• Harry Hay wrote long impassioned and eloquent essays in defense of man/boy love
• NAMBLA considers Harry Hay one of their leading champions
• Harry Hay once wrote these words: “The relationship with an older man is precisely what thirteen-, fourteen-, and fifteen-year-old kids need more than anything else in the world.”
Isn’t that enough for you? Or do you require more…and more and more and more evidence of Hay’s connection to NAMBLA until the pile is so high it can be seen from coast to coast? But why do you want an endless stream of additional evidence to be dug up on this story? I can’t even grasp your motivation. It seems like you’re trying to turn this into a bigger scandal than it already is. Wouldn’t it be infinitely wiser — and healthier for Kevin Jennings’ political position — for Media Matters to just admit the self-evident truth that Harry Hay was a long-standing fierce public advocate for NAMBLA and everything it stood for, rather than stir the pot of controversy by flatly denying the obvious? I get the feeling that Media Matters just has knee-jerk reactions to anything you perceive as an attack on the Obama administration, and you respond with vitriol and deception — without putting much thought into the ruinous consequences of your actions.
An article in the American Spectator called “When Nancy Met Harry” said that Harry Hay’s predilection for pedophilia “was common knowledge,” at least in San Francisco (and by extension other gay communities) — despite the trend by those who praised him to “blithely give a wink-and-a-nod to ole Harry and his interest in little boys.” This is exactly what Kevin Jennings seems to have done.
The autobiographical book Radically Gay: Gay Liberation in the Words of Its Founder By Harry Hay contains several references to Hay’s support of NAMBLA as well — eliminating any doubt as to Hay’s position on this topic. The book reprints a long essay written by Hay in defense of NAMBLA called “Our Beloved Gay/Lesbian Movement at a Crossroads.” It is far too long to reprint here in full, so I will only present two short excerpts from the book to give the flavor of it. And accompanying them are scans of the relevant pages in the book to prove the text really did appear as transcribed here.
The first passage was written by Hay’s co-author and editor Will Roscoe in his introduction to Hay’s essay, in which he summarizes Hay’s main intellectual argument in favor of pederasty:
“…[Harry Hay] was once a young Gay man, well under the age of consent, who sought out sexual contact with an adult man and found it. To call this “child molestation” only stigmatizes homosexuality further and makes it more difficult for young Gay people to make contact with others like them.”
The second passage comes from Hay’s essay itself, featuring his typically counter-intuitive definition of “child molestation”:
“Insofar as child molestation is concerned, the most common, yet unrecognized, form is the sexual coercion of Gay and Lesbian youth into heterosexual identities and behaviors. This is practiced daily by the whole national and international Hetero community–parents, families, teachers, preachers, doctors, lawyers, and Indian Chiefs, not to overlook U.S. Senators and the pooh-bah news media. This outrageous coercion of Gay kids into heterosexual identities and behaviors is not only sexually abusive, it is a spiritually devastating rape because the child, unknowingly, is led into self-loathing at the same time!
For this gigantic criminal trespass–against not only today’s youth, but all of us since childhood, from the Queers my age, 82, down through all the generations of Queers now reading this page, to the Gay kids still being bedeviled by heterosexual coercion–we, the international Gay and Lesbian People, should unite to sue the whole guilty hetero community for compensation!“
You can see from this essay that Hay was not some doddering old man unaware of what he was saying: He fully grasped the significance of his arguments. And what’s particularly interesting about this passage is that the arguments it presents are not wildly different from the arguments presented today by many mainstream advocacy groups — minus, of course, any mention or support of NAMBLA. Harry Hay’s manner of thinking has indeed been influential, even if his promotion of pederasty has at the same time been conveniently ignored.
Having read all this, Media Matters, do you still think it wise to flatly deny that Harry Hay was a NAMBLA supporter, and even if he was, to deny that Kevin Jennings knew anything about it?
Don’t you think it would be a better course of action for you to join me in my call for Kevin Jennings to disassociate himself from Harry Hay and Hay’s philosophy as quickly and unambiguously as possible?