top2.gif - 6.71 K

The Barbara Gittings
Gay & Lesbian Collection

Honoring a Pioneer in
the Nation's Public Libraries

By Jack Nichols

Barbara Gittings at the Free Library of Philadelphia On America's East Coast Barbara Gittings was the first true lesbian and gay activist. She joined the fledgling movement in 1958 and, shortly afterwards, with the unflagging assistance of the great love of her life, Kay Tobin Lahusen, she emerged as one of its most articulate representatives.

Throughout the decades, Barbara and Kay (as they're affectionately known to all who've been privileged to work with them) helped initiate and uphold a strategic militancy that was crucial to the American movement's earliest growth. She was in the forefront of the battle against now-discredited psychiatric theorizing. She stood on the ramparts in the earliest picketing demonstrations.

Barbara founded the first East Coast chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis, the nation's original lesbian group. She became the editor of America's first lesbian movement magazine, The Ladder. Among her primary motives had been to make the process of coming out easier for closeted, distressed women and men .

Until her discovery in a library of certain liberating books and her subsequent collaboration with other movement pioneers, Barbara had experienced—as a young woman—a troubling but unwarranted feeling of isolation that still makes many unduly anxious today.

Thereafter, she dedicated her life to making sure that later generations could know, as she'd been quick to discover, that they're not alone and that same-sex love is fully on par with and not different in kind from heterosexuality.

She was determined to hoist the iron curtain of lesbian and gay invisibility, and in this, Barbara has succeeded, perhaps, beyond her own most hope-filled dreams.

With her beloved Kay at her side, Barbara Gittings now looks back on 43 colorful, satisfying years of an activist's life, a life successfully spent in key service to a much-needed, ongoing revolution in the conduct of human love. Few pioneers on history's stage have lived, as Barbara has, to see their visions materialize with such an astounding rapidity. gittingstobin.jpg - 15.38 K Barbara Gittings with her beloved Kay Tobin Lahusen, 1994

It is entirely fitting, therefore, that a committee of 25 persons gathered recently to help raise funds for the Barbara Gittings Gay and Lesbian Collection at the Independence Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia. It was through library books, after all, that Barbara had liberated herself in the socially repressive 1950s.

At a critical time beginning during the opening years of the 1970s, she was coordinator of the Gay Task Force of the American Library Association, assisting the Association in the choosing of the best liberation literature available.

Today, her pioneering efforts have earned Barbara a much-deserved honor: the naming after her at the Independence Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia, of a gay and lesbian collection that is housed, appropriately, within the very shadow of Independence Hall.

In conjunction with Philadelphia's William Way Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center, committee chair Jim Bryson has raised nearly $15,000 of the $35,000 that is needed. A direct mail campaign has been launched soliciting donations.

Related Stories from the GayToday Archive:

Barbara Gittings: Co-Grand Marshall in New York

Jim Kepner: Two Pioneers Remember

The Gay Crusaders Today

Related Sites:
The Free Library of Philadelphia

GayToday does not endorse related sites.

Contributions for this lesbian and gay collection can be sent to:

Development Office Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation 1901 Vine Street Philadlephia, Pennsylvania 19103

Contributors should indicate that the donation is to be used for the Gittings Collection at the Independence Branch.

Contributors must be assured they're giving to a worthy cause, say those pioneers who know without a doubt that the living Barbara Gittings is our national treasure.

GayToday recommends, therefore, that there be a nation-wide reenactment—establishing similar Barbara Gittings Gay and Lesbian Collections in public libraries from coast to coast.

Philadelphia, where Barbara has lived most of her life, is setting an example, honoring this amazing, indefatigable woman whose entire life has been dedicated to helping others. The least we can do, in fact, is to thank her in a meaningful way, honoring her name wherever library collections of gay and lesbian books exist.

© 1997-2002 BEI