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LGBTQ icons: Barbara Gittings

11/09/2023 10:29

As we continue our celebration of the women who have shaped our community, let’s take a look at the life and legacy of Barbara Gittings – one of the most powerful voices for equality in the early days of LGBTQ activism in the US.

Early life

Born in 1932 in Austria – where her father was serving as a US diplomat – her family returned to the US at the outbreak of World War II.

Gittings was raised in Delaware, going on to study drama at Northwestern University. However, she didn’t complete her studies – leaving home to move to Philadelphia.

While living in Philadelphia, Gittings began to connect with and explore the queer scene in New York City.


Beginning around 1958, Gittings was one of the main organisers of the New York chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis. By the early-60s, Billings was editing the national magazine for the Daughters of Bilitis.

Working closely with Frank Kameny, Gittings helped organise the picket lines that brought attention to the ban on employment of gay people by the US government – which, at that time, was the largest employer in the country.

Gittings was a part of the movement to get the American Psychiatric Association to drop homosexuality as a mental illness – this was achieved in 1973.

Gittings described her life mission as being to tear away the “shroud of invisibility” related to homosexuality, and end the association between homosexuality and crime and mental illness.


Gittings search for information about lesbianism was at the core of her passion for libraries.

In the 1970s, Gittings was actively involved in the American Library Association, especially its gay caucus, promoting positive literature about homosexuality in libraries.

Gittings 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 Barbara Gittings Award.

Personal life

Gittings spent much of her life with Kay Tobin Lahusen – they first met in 1961.

Gittings died in 2007, aged 74.



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