Jay was born Karla Jayne Berlin in Brooklyn, New York, to a conservative Jewish family. She attended the Berkeley Institute, a private girls' school in Brooklyn now called the Berkeley Carroll School. Later she attended Barnard College, where she majored in French, and graduated in 1968 after having taken part in the student demonstrations at Columbia University.
While she shared many of the goals of the radical left-wing of the late 1960s, Jay was uncomfortable with the male-supremacist behavior of many of the movement’s leaders. In 1969, she became a member of Redstockings. At around the same time she began using the name Karla Jay to reflect her feminist principles.
When activists founded the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) in the wake of the Stonewall Riots of June 1969, Jay, openly lesbian, was an early member, and became an active participant, balancing attendance at meetings with working and attending graduate school at New York University, majoring in comparative literature. She was one of the few women actively involved in the early gay rights movement on both coasts.
Working with Allen Young (writer) she edited Out of the closets a pioneering anthology which gave voice to the Radicalesbians, Martha Shelley and writers such as Rita Mae Brown.
At Pace University's 10th Annual Dyson Distinguished Achievement Awards, that took place April 6, 2006, Karla Jay was honored with the Distinguished Faculty Award.
Karla Jay, 1991, by Robert Giard (http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/dl_crosscollex/brbldl_getrec.asp?fld=img&id=1123957)
American photographer Robert Giard is renowned for his portraits of American poets and writers; his particular focus was on gay and lesbian writers. Some of his photographs of the American gay and lesbian literary community appear in his groundbreaking book Particular Voices: Portraits of Gay and Lesbian Writers, published by MIT Press in 1997. Giard’s stated mission was to define the literary history and cultural identity of gays and lesbians for the mainstream of American society, which perceived them as disparate, marginal individuals possessing neither. In all, he photographed more than 600 writers. (http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/digital