Faithful master of maps at the Los Angeles Public Library, Glen Creason writes in Los Angeles Magazinethis week about the Cove Avenue staircase in Silver Lake—officially known as the Mattachine Steps since 2012. This set of stairs is perhaps most recognizable to fitness-obsessed residents of the area who scale them on a daily basis. But they also serve as a monument to one of the most influential figures in LA’s storied history of LGBT advocacy.
That’s Harry Hay, who lived in a house adjacent to the stairs when he founded the Mattachine society in 1950. This group was one of the first gay rights organizations established in the United States and was enormously influential in the development of the national gay rights movement. The name of the society was taken from a fraternal order of masked performers that traveled the French countryside during the Middle Ages. As Kevin Roderick wrote in a 2003 epitaph to Hay, also in Los Angeles Magazine, Hay and his then-partner Rudi Gernreich would recruit members at beaches around Los Angeles and Santa Monica. “If a guy’s eyes would shine a little bit more than usual, we would invite him to have coffee with us,” Hay apparently recalled.
A photo posted by SavageMike™ (@savagemike) on Jun 6, 2015 at 7:39pm PDT
Though Hay was forced to step down as the organization’s leader in 1953 because of his connections to the Communist party, the society grew in strength and eventually splintered off into regional factions. Shortly after the Stonewall Riots in 1969, Hay established the Los Angeles Gay Liberation Front and organized a “gay-in” event at Griffith Park. As Creason notes, Hay urged the gay men of Los Angeles to “throw off the ugly green frogskin of hetero-imitation and find the shining faerie prince within.” He died at the age of 90 in 2002 after a lifetime of advocacy.
So next time you find yourself struggling up the steps at Cove Avenue, remember the struggle of Hay and the courageous members of the his organization who risked so much in their efforts, and keep going. Or go home and eat a bowl of ice cream. But still, remember the Mattachine Society.