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Sunday, 31 July 2011

Barbara Gittings

b. July 31, 1932
d. February 18, 2007

Barbara Gittings is a Gay Pioneer who participated in the first organized annual gay civil rights demonstrations, helped convince the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders, and helped persuade libraries to include gay content.

"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!"

In the 1950's gay activism was in its infancy. Describing those years, Gittings says, "There were scarcely 200 of us in the whole United States. It was like a club---we all knew each other." Barbara Gittings began her career in activism in 1958 when she founded the New York chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis, the first lesbian organization. She edited DOB's national magazine The Ladder from 1963 to 1966.

In 1965 Gittings marched in the first gay picket lines at the White House and other Federal sites in Washington, DC to protest discrimination by the Federal government. She joined other activists in the first annual demonstrations for gay and lesbian civil rights held each July 4 from 1965 to 1969 at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. These yearly protests laid the groundwork for the Stonewall rebellion in 1969 and the first New York gay pride parade in 1970.

In the 1970's Gittings campaigned with Frank Kameny and others to have homosexuality removed from the American Psychiatric Association's list of mental disorders. She recruited "Dr. H. Anonymous," a gay psychiatrist who appeared, masked, on a panel at the 1972 APA conference to tell his colleagues why he couldn't be open in his own profession. In 1973, when the de-listing was announced, a Philadelphia newspaper headline announced: "Homosexuals Gain 'Instant Cure'."

Gittings also crusaded to make gay literature available in libraries. Though not a librarian, Gittings found a home in the Gay Task Force of the American Library Association, the first gay caucus in a professional organization. She edited its Gay Bibliography and wrote a history of the group, Gays in Library Land. Her campaign to promote gay materials and eliminate discrimination in libraries was recognized in 2003 by an honorary lifetime membership conferred by the American Library Association.


Selected works by Barbara Gittings:

  • "Gays in Library Land." In Daring to Find Our Own Names, James V. Carmichael, Jr., 1998.

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