Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin Lahusen Papers : Digital Collection, 1962-1972
At the first GLBT ALMS (Archive, Library, Museum, Special Collection) conference in May 2006 at the University of Minnesota, she mesmerized the audience with her plenary speech. I remember speaking with other conferees who had never heard her before: the commanding tone, the warm smile and stories, and the eyes that asked "what more are you going to do for our cause?". They were agog.
There are fewer and fewer living witnesses to the bad old days of federally enforced 'closetting' and socially mandated hatred, fewer and fewer of those distinctive personalities that gave up so much to make it a better place for those of us who followed. With Barbara's passing, we have lost all that and therole as moral compass that she still played. A presence is gone and we are the poorer for its departure.
Jack Nichols, writing in 1997, about Barbara's selection as co-grand marshall of New York City's Pride Parade called her "the Grand Mother of Lesbian and Gay Liberation". Not the 'Grandmother' but the "Grand Mother'. Ms Gittings also had an uncompromising element of earth mother in her motherliness. She was forthright, out, and outspoken, organized, hardworking and a strategist.
Nichols also paid tribute to the inseparability of the "Barbara-and-Kay" team of Barbara and her life partner Kay Tobin Lahusen. For those who have met the 'team', it is a life partnership the like of which we all would love to have in our lives. Lahusen is the documentarian on the team, whose photo collection is now one of the treasures of the LGBTQ community.
In Washington, DC Barbara Gittings found a partner in activism, Dr. Franklin E. Kameny, whose uncompromising and innovative gay civil rights activism found an echo in Gittings. They met in 1963. Active since 1958 (at the age of 26) in gay civil rights, with an already established role in the Daughters of Bilitis (she organized a NY chapter in 1958), she embraced the then radical idea of gay picketing, joining the Mattachine Society of Washington (MSW) in picketing the White House and other federal sites in Washington. She recalled in The Gay Crusaders (1972) that Kameny "was the first gay person I met who took firm, uncompromising positions about homosexuality and homosexuals' right to be considered fully on a par with heterosexuals.... Frank really raised my consciousness on this matter! Also thanks partly to him, I got turned on to gay civil rights issues." On July 4, 1965, she and Kameny brought gay picketing to Philadelphia's Independence Hall, three months after MSW began picketing.
Gittings and Lahusen became active not only in the Daughters of Bilitis (where they met) and with Washington's Mattachine, but in the effort to organize regional homophile groups, beginning with the East Coast Homophile Organization and moving on to the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations, and the nation conference, NACHO. At the Daughters of Bilitis, Gittings became editor of The Ladder, bringing the lesbian periodical into a bolder role, adding the subtitle "A Lesbian Review" in 1964 and adding cover photos of women in 1964.
Gittings and Kameny worked together for nearly a decade to overturn the American Psychiatric Association's (APA) classification of homosexuality as a mental disorder. In May 1971, they were seated at the front of the hall at the APA's Washington, DC convention when gay activists took over the proceedings and Kameny seized the microphone. The following year Gittings and Kameny staffed a booth on homosexuality at the next APA convention in Dallas, TX. Gittings and Kameny were both honored in October 2006 with the first Fyrer Award from the APA for their leadership in the relation between psychiatry and homosexuality.
In 1966, Gittings gave up editorial control of The Ladder and became involved as a personal counsel working with Kameny, Mattachine and others to counsel those in conflict with the Department of Defense over security clearances and employment issues.
Gittings and Lahusen were active in Dr. Kameny's March 1971 campaign for Congress, travelling down from Philadelphia to help canvas for petition signatures and to leaflet voters. They came down with the busloads of volunteers from Philly and New York and stayed for the strategizing and the parties.
In 1972, Gittings, long involved with libraries though not a librarian, joined the American Library Association's Task Force on Gay Liberation, becoming its leader. She has played a major role in ensuring that libraries carry resources that will inform and support gays and lesbians. She never lost sight of the frustration of days in her youth when she combed through libraries and bookstores looking for explanation and validation of her affectional orientation. In 1971 she established a Gay Book Award focusing critical evaluation on fiction and non-fiction books dealing with homosexuality. Librarians recognized her enormous contributions. In 2003, the American Library Association made her an honorary member in recognition of her contributions. The Free Library of Philadelphia had honored her in 2001 with the creation of the Barbara Gittings Gay/Lesbian Collection.
- Gittings, Barbara, 1932-2007
- Tobin, Kay