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America loses a hero
Activist Barbara Gittings’ work predates Stonewall

by Marc McCarthy

Barbara Gittings made history in 1965 when she helped organize protests outside the White House and Independence Hall for equal employment opportunity for lesbians and gay men.
PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — LGBT civil rights pioneer Barbara Gittings died Feb. 18 at age 75 after a long fight against breast cancer. Gittings is survived by her partner of 46 years, Kay Tobin Lahusen, and a sister, Eleanor Gittings Taylor.

Gittings made history in 1965 when she helped organize protests outside the White House and Independence Hall for equal employment opportunity for lesbians and gay men. Gittings also helped establish the first East Coast chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis (one of the nation’s first lesbian civil rights organizations, founded in 1955 by Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon) in New York City. In 1963 she was tapped to edit the organization’s newsletter, The Ladder.

In the ’70s and ’80s, Gittings served as coordinator of the American Library Association’s Gay Task Force, and in the early ’70s she and noted activist Frank Kameny led an education campaign that culminated in the 1973 decision by the American Psychiatric Association to finally remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders. Gittings’ contributions to the development of the LGBT civil rights movement have been examined in several acclaimed documentary films, including “Before Stonewall,” “After Stonewall,” “Out of the Past” and “Gay Pioneers.”

“Of the many gifts Barbara Gittings leaves behind, her insistence that gay and lesbian lives be viewed honestly and openly, through human eyes and through human stories, may be her defining legacy,” said GLAAD President Neil Giuliano. “Gittings was a singular, inimitable civil rights icon, and we, along with so many in our community and our movement, celebrate her life, mourn her passing and extend our deepest sympathies to her family.”

“Barbara was a courageous and visionary pioneer of our movement,” said Human Rights Campaign (HRC) President Joe Solmonese. “We owe her an enormous debt of gratitude and our condolences go out to her widow, Kay Lahusen, as well as the rest of her family.”

“Barbara Gittings took one of the very first steps in the LGBT community’s journey toward equality,” said C. Dixon Osburn, executive director of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN). “A tireless activist who dedicated her life to equal opportunity, Barbara tore down countless walls of discrimination and broke through glass ceiling after glass ceiling. She refused to be considered second-class by the White House, the Pentagon or the country. Her work moved our community immeasurably forward and her passion inspired others to stand up, step forward and come out. She will be greatly missed.”

Gittings was honored Feb. 20 in a wreath laying ceremony across from Independence Hall in Philadelphia. About 70 supporters gathered in front of the Pennsylvania historical marker commemorating the first annual demonstrations for gay and lesbian civil rights held there each July 4 from 1965 to 1969.

Malcolm Lazin, executive director of Equality Forum, spoke about Barbara’s lifelong contributions to the LGBT civil rights movement before the wreath was placed at the foot of the historical marker by two community leaders, Stacey Sobel and Virginia Gutierrez.

At the 12th Annual GLAAD Media Awards in 2001, GLAAD honored Gittings with an inaugural award bearing her name that recognizes pioneering individuals, groups or community media outlets that have made significant contributions to the development of LGBT media. Subsequent recipients of the Barbara Gittings Award have included The Advocate (2002), “In the Life” (2004), PlanetOut (2005), here! (2006) and MTV Networks’ Logo (2006).

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