Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin Lahusen met in 1961 at a picnic in Rhode Island.
"We hit it off, we started courting. I flew to Boston to visit 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.
Indeed, at the time, homosexuality was considered a sickness, a mental illness. Throughout their relationship, Barbara and Kay worked tirelessly, side by side to dispel such misconceptions and to bring visibility and equal rights to the LGBT community. Barbara organized the New York chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis and edited their magazine The Ladder, working alongside partner and photographer Kay. In 1965, Barbara was one of the first in a small group to picket the White House, the State Department and Independence Hall in Philadelphia, protesting the federal government's discrimination policies against hiring homosexuals.
When Barbara passed away in 2007, the community lost a hero and Kay lost her lover of 46 years.
Barbara Gittings met her partner, Kay Tobin Lahusen in 1961 at a picnic in Rhode Island, and described how they began: "We hit it off, we started courting. I flew to Boston and got off the plane with a big bunch of flowers in my hand. I couldnt 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." Lahusen moved to Philadelphia to be with Gittings. Gittings and Lahusen were together for 46 years, until Gittings's death.
Barbara Gittings is buried at Congressional Cemetery, Washington, District of Columbia, District Of Columbia, USA. The tombstone reads: Gay Pioneers who spoke truth to power: Gay is good. Partners in life, Married in our hearts.
Gittings organized the New York chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB) from 1958 to 1963, edited the national DOB magazine The Ladder from 1963 to 1966, and worked closely with Frank Kameny in the 1960s on the first picket lines that brought attention to the ban on employment of gay people by the largest employer in the US at that time: the United States government. Her early experiences with trying to learn more about lesbianism fueled her lifetime work with libraries. In the 1970s, Gittings was most involved in the American Library Association, forming the first gay caucus in a professional organization, in order to promote positive literature about homosexuality in libraries. She was a part of the movement to get the American Psychiatric Association to drop homosexuality as a mental illness in 1972. Her self-described life mission was to tear away the "shroud of invisibility" related to homosexuality that associated it with crime and mental illness.
She was awarded a lifetime membership in the American Library Association, and the ALA named an annual award for the best gay or lesbian novel the The Barbara Gittings Award. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) also named an activist award for her. At her memorial service, Matt Foreman, the executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force said, "What do we owe Barbara? Everything."
Gittings was an avid music lover, most interested in Baroque and Renaissance music. She sang in choral groups for most of her life, spending over 50 years in the Philadelphia Chamber Chorus. She was also a hiking and canoeing enthusiast.
Gittins and Lahusen donated copies of some materials and photographs covering their activism to the Cornell University Rare and Manuscript Collections. In 2007, Lahusen donated all of their original papers and photographs to the New York City Public Library. NYPL President Paul LeClerc said, "The collection donated by Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin Lahusen is a remarkable first-hand chronicle detailing the battles of gays and lesbians to overcome the prejudice and restrictions that were prevalent prior to the activism and protest movements that started in the 1960s." The University of Massachusetts Amherst main library also received a donation of over 1,000 of Gittings' and Lahusen's books in 2007.
In 1997, Gittings and Lahusen pushed the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) to grant couple's membership to them, for a reduced price on health insurance. One of her last acts as an activist was to come out in the newsletter published by the assisted living facility they reside in. On February 18, 2007 Gittings died in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania after a long battle with breast cancer. 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!"
Kay Lahusen (b. January 5, 1930 also known as Kay Tobin) is considered the first openly gay photojournalist of the gay rights movement. Lahusen's photographs of lesbians appeared on several of the covers of The Ladder from 1964 to 1966 while her partner, Barbara Gittings, was the editor. Lahusen helped with the founding of the original Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) in 1970, she contributed to a New York-based weekly newspaper named Gay Newsweekly, and co-authored The Gay Crusaders with Randy Wicker.
Lahusen was born and brought up in Cincinnati, Ohio and developed her interest in photography as a child. "Even as a kid I liked using a little box camera and pushing it and trying to get something artsy out of it," she recalled. She discovered while in college that she had romantic feelings for a woman and she had a relationship with her for six years, but after the woman left "in order to marry and have a normal life," Lahusen was devastated by the loss.
Lahusen spent the next six years in Boston working in the reference library of the Christian Science Monitor. She met Barbara Gittings in 1961 at a Daughters of Bilitis picnic in Rhode Island. They became a couple and Lahusen moved to Philadelphia to be with Gittings. When Gittings took over The Ladder in 1963, Lahusen made it a priority to improve the quality of art on the covers.
Where previously there were simple line drawings, characterized by Lahusen as "pretty bland, little cats, insipid human figures," Lahusen began to add photographs of real lesbians on the cover beginning in September 1964. The first showed two women from the back, on a beach looking out to sea. But Lahusen really wanted to add full-face portraits of lesbians. "If you go around as if you don't dare show your face, it sends forth a terrible message," Lahusen remembered. Several covers showed various women willing to pose in profile, or in sunglasses, but in January 1966 she was finally able to get a full face portrait. Lilli Vincenz, open and smiling, adorned the cover of The Ladder. By the end of Gittings' period as editor, Lahusen remembered there was a waiting list of women who wanted to be full-face on the cover of the magazine. Lahusen also wrote articles in The Ladder under the name Kay Tobin, a name she picked out of the phone book, and which she found was easier for people to pronounce and remember
Lesbian couple, portrait, 1977 (http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/id?1606450)
Lilli Vincenz, cover for The Ladder
Sylvia Rivera in front of fountain, 1970 (http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/id?1605885)
Men kissing under tree, 1977-78 (http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/id?1606388)
Jack Nichols and Lige Clarke at Gay's offices in New York City (http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/id?1606578)
Barbara Gittins in shower, circa 1962 (http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/id?1605708)
Michael McConnell and Jack Baker, 1970 (http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/id?1605976)
Lahusen photographed Gittings and other people who picketed federal buildings and Independence Hall in the mid to late 1960s. She contributed photographs and articles to a Manhattan newspaper called Gay Newsweekly, and worked in New York City's Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookstore, the first bookstore devoted to better literature on gay themes, and to disseminating materials that promoted a gay political agenda. She worked with Gittings in the gay caucus of the American Library Association, and photographed thousands of activists, marches, and events in the 1960s and 1970s. Frank Kameny and Jack Nichols and many other gay activists became her subjects.
Barbara Gittings picketing the White House, 1965 (http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/id?1605753)
Kay Lahusen marching at the first Annual Stonewall Reminder in 1969
Jack Nichols in picket line in 1988 (http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/id?1605777)
Barbara Gittings and Randy Wicker in picket line, 1966 (http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/id?1605796)
In the 1980s Lahusen became involved in real estate, and placed ads in gay papers. She also organized agents to get them to march in New York City's Gay Pride Parade. More recently, her photographs have been featured in exhibits at The William Way Community Center in Philadelphia and the Wilmington Institute Library in Delaware. In 2007, all of Lahusen's photos and writings and Gittings' papers and writings were donated to the New York Public Library. Lahusen and Gittings were together for 46 years when Gittings died of breast cancer on February 18, 2007. Lahusen was working on collecting her photographs for a photography scrapbook on the history of the gay rights movement when Gittings' illness put the plans on hold. Lahusen currently resides in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania in an assisted living facility.
Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin Lahusen, 1991, by Robert Giard
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
Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time by Elisa Rolle
Paperback: 760 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (July 1, 2014)
CreateSpace Store: https://www.createspace.com/4910282
Amazon (Paperback): http://www.amazon.com/dp/1500563323/?tag=e
Amazon (Kindle): http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MZG0VHY/?tag=e
Days of Love chronicles more than 700 LGBT couples throughout history, spanning 2000 years from Alexander the Great to the most recent winner of a Lambda Literary Award. Many of the contemporary couples share their stories on how they met and fell in love, as well as photos from when they married or of their families. Included are professional portraits by Robert Giard and Stathis Orphanos, paintings by John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini, and photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnson, Arnold Genthe, and Carl Van Vechten among others. “It's wonderful. Laying it out chronologically is inspired, offering a solid GLBT history. I kept learning things. I love the decision to include couples broken by death. It makes clear how important love is, as well as showing what people have been through. The layout and photos look terrific.” Christopher Bram “I couldn’t resist clicking through every page. I never realized the scope of the book would cover centuries! I know that it will be hugely validating to young, newly-emerging LGBT kids and be reassured that they really can have a secure, respected place in the world as their futures unfold.” Howard Cruse “This international history-and-photo book, featuring 100s of detailed bios of some of the most forward-moving gay persons in history, is sure to be one of those bestsellers that gay folk will enjoy for years to come as reference and research that is filled with facts and fun.” Jack Fritscher
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