Thursday, July 30, 2009

Today in Gay History

Happy Birthday
Barbara Gittings 1932-2007

Gay Civil Rights Pioneer

Founder of the New York chapter of the early Lesbian rights group, The Daughters of Bilitis Barbara had attended her first meeting in California in 1956 where she had made the acquaintance of the society's founders, Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin.

Two years later Lyon and Martin asked Gittings to form the first New York chapter of DOB. Although the travel from her home in Philadelphia was a challenge, Gittings embraced the project.

It was at a Daughters of Bilitis picnic in 1961 that Gittings met Kay Lahusen, herself an activist. The two fell in love and soon became partners for life. The bottom photo at the top of this post is of Barbara (l) and Kay(r) still cutting the activism rug in later years.

Barbara became editor of the DOB newsletter The Ladder for several years and studied widely in the just-a-bornin' homosexual rights movement of the late 1950s through 1960s.

In the mid 1960s, Barbara met and befriended Frank Kameny, the leading gay rights activist of the past 60 years, and signed on to his embracing of peaceful non-violent demonstrations to call the public's attention to the injustices faced by gay people. This diverged from the approved tactics of the DOB, and she left that group, which later sort of became less relevant as the gay rights movement matured. The top photo above is of Barbara picketing at an early "demonstration" for "homosexual" rights in 1965 in Washington DC.

In addition to being instrumental in having homosexuality removed from the American Psychiatric Association's list of mental disorders, she also worked tirelessly within the American Library Association to make materials with glbtq content more accessible to the reading public.

Following a brave battle with breast cancer, Gittings died on February 18, 2007. She was survived by Lahusen.

Together with Lahusen, Gittings was active in glbtq organizations until the very end of her life. Fittingly, the couple planned eventually to donate their extensive collection of books, documents, and photographs to libraries and archives, where they will undoubtedly be a boon to scholars and other readers as well as a fitting tribute to the couple's life of commitment to activism for gay rights.


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