May 062017

Paula here.  I’m in the fourth year of daily blogging on this site.  I have learned an incredible amount of information about lesbians of the past and present.  There are few countries in 2017 that are not having protests.  Here is an activist in the fight for recognition and rights of LGBTI persons in American during 1950-1980.  The lesbian hero is Barbara Gittings (1932-2007)

Early Activism

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, lesbians were basically meeting in secret or in bars where gay men’s presence gave the bar a “safe” look to it.  One way to participate, socialize and learn back then was to read lesbian magazines.  Barbara Gittings organized the New York chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis and edited the magazine The Ladder from 1963-1966.  Here was an opportunity for lesbians to write articles and poetry and learn of gatherings.

Time for Love:   Barbara met her life partner in 1961.

Barbara with Kay Tobin Lahusen- 46 years of love

Barbara worked with Frank Kameny and brought attention to the fact that the largest employer, the United States government was not employing gay people.  Barbara became involved in the American Library Association in order to promote positive literature on homosexuality.  A hard and insistent worker, Barbara and others worked to get the American Psychiatric Association to drop homosexuality as a “mental illness.”  This did happen in 1972.   The Barbara Gittings Award is in full swing for the best gay or lesbian novel.

Early Life

At one stage in Barbara’s high school career, she was rejected for membership in the National Honor Society for “homosexual inclinations.”  They was told to her in private.

How Can I Find Out About Homosexuality

Barbara found that most homosexuality in books was about men.  Much of it was riddled with words like “deviants, prevents and abnormal.”   Her father found her reading “The Well of Loneliness” and all hell broke loose.  Gittings took a night course in abnormal psychology.  She had a brief affair with a woman in the course.  She was 18 years of age.

Wearing Drag

Gittings started to wear men’s clothing.  In later years, she stated that this was the only way that she knew to show that she was gay.   In a 1975 interview, she recalled, “I wore drag because I thought that was a way to show I was gay. It’s changed now, but in the early 50s there were basically two types of women in the gay bars: the so-called butch ones in short hair and plain masculine attire and the so-called femme ones in dresses and high heels and makeup. I knew high heels and makeup weren’t my personal style, so I thought…I must be the other kind!


California Bound – Writing and Picketing

Kay Tobin Lahusen also worked on the Ladder

Barbara went to California where The Daughters of Bilitis served as a social alternative for bars for lesbians.   She became involved in its press.  In 1965, Barbara marched in the first gay picket lines at the White House and the US State Dept.  Men wore suits and ties and women wore dresses and heels.  This conservative look was to impress citizens that gays and lesbians wore this type of clothing every day.  There was no need to ban them from government employment.

Barbara picketed with others for four years particularly on July 4th (American Independence Day).  It was the Stonewall Riots of June 1969 – that resulted in Gays and Lesbians refusing to be silent any more.  After the riots, Gay Pride Parades emerged commemorating the Stonewall.

Time Put in For Future Generations.


As I write this blog, I am so aware of living in 2017.  Barbara Gittings and so many others have paved the way for LGBTI equality in USA/Canada/Britain/Europe/N.Z (and hopefully marriage equality in Australia soon).  Yet, I am so aware of the time Barbara and others spent in long picket lines.  She made hundreds of appearance as a speaker stating that homosexuality was not an illness. 

Hug and Kiss a Homosexual

Before the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from being a ‘mental illness’, Barbara and others organized a kissing both at the American Library Associations function in Dallas.  This was for straights to kiss or hug homosexuals.

When no one took advantage of it, she and Alma Routsong kissed in front of rolling cameras.  Alma Routsong, whose men name was Isabel Miller wrote the love story Patience and Sarah.   Later, homosexuals and lesbians did their own same sex kissing.

First Open Lesbians on Television

Barbara made an appearance on the Phil Donahue Show in 1970 and on PBS” David Susskind Show in 1971, other lesbians with her were Lilli Vincenz and Barbara Love.  There is a nice incident of a middle-aged couple that approached Barbara after Susskind’s show.  In was in a supermarket setting and the woman said,  “You made me realize that you gay people love each other just the way Arnold and I do.”

Tireless Work with the American Psychiatric Association

Barbara Gittings and her friend Frank Kameny wanted frank discussions with the APA, but unfortunately most of the psychiatrists were heterosexual.  Barbara and Frank wanted a gay psychiatrists and when they found one – he insisted on wearing a mask to protect his future profession.
The Power of the Written Word
Barbara knew that literature was power for men and women learning and coming to terms with their homosexuality.  She spent sixteen years working to eliminate censorship and job discrimination.  She was instrumental in forming the National Gay Task Force.  She inspired nurses to form the Gay Nurses Alliance in 1973.

Honours Come

In 1999, Gittings was honored for her contributions to the LGBT cause at the seventh annual PrideFest America, in Philadelphia. The organization described Gittings as “the Rosa Parks of the gay and lesbian civil rights movement.”   In 2002 Free Library of Philadelphia announced its Barbara Gittings Collection of books dedicated to gay and lesbian issues. There are more than 2000 items in the collection, the second largest gay and lesbian collection of books in the US outside that of the San Francisco Public Library.


Long Relationship of Love and Dedication

Barbara met her life partner, Kay Lahusen Tobin) in 1961 at a picnic in Rhode Island.  Barbara recalls:

“We hit it off, we started courting. I flew to Boston [to see her] and got off the plane with a big bunch of flowers in my hand. I couldn’t resist. I did not care what the world thought. I dropped the flowers, grabbed her and kissed her. That was not being done in 1961.”  They were in a loving relationship for 46 years.

The Legacy On February 18, 2007, Barbara died.

She is survived by her life partner, Kay Tobin Lahusen, and her sister, Eleanor Gittings Taylor. In 1999, Gittings summed up her inspiration for her activism: “As a teenager, I had to struggle alone to learn about myself and what it meant to be gay. Now for 48 years I’ve had the satisfaction of working with other gay people all across the country to get the bigots off our backs, to oil the closet door hinges, to change prejudiced hearts and minds, and to show that gay love is good for us and for the rest of the world too. It’s hard work — but it’s vital, and it’s gratifying, and it’s often fun!”

Thank you, Barbara, Kay and all those gays and lesbians that worked so hard for us.  We raise the torch with our own hands

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