Pioneering activist dies of cancer

By Associated Press

Gittings helped organize first LGBT protests at White House and Independence Hall



Barbara Gittings

PHILADELPHIA Barbara Gittings, a gay rights activist since the late 1950s, died Sunday, Feb. 18. She was 75.

Gittings died after a lengthy fight with breast cancer, said Mark Segal, a friend and the publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News.

Gittings helped organize the New York City chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis, an early lesbian rights organization, in the 1950s. During her work with that group, she met her life partner, Kay Lahusen. The two had been together for 46 years at the time of Gittings’ death.

Gittings edited the Daughters of Bilitis’ publication, The Ladder, from 1963 to 1966, and worked with Lahusen on her 1973 book, “The Gay Crusaders.”

She first became well known to the public in 1965, when she helped organize gay rights demonstrations at the White House and Independence Hall. In 2005, Gittings and Lahusen attended the unveiling of a state historic marker noting those demonstrations across the street from Independence Hall.

Gittings had served as head of the American Library Association’s Gay Task Force; in 2003, the association presented her its highest honor, a lifetime membership. Gittings was also active in the campaign that led to the American Psychiatric Association’s 1973 decision to drop homosexuality from its list of mental disorders.

LGBT leaders around the country this week mourned Gittings’ death, praising her as a pioneer of the LGBT rights movement in the United States.

“Barbara Gittings is the mother of the GLBT civil rights movement. She is our Rosa Parks,” said Malcolm Lazen, executive director of Equality Forum. “Her courage helped launch the GLBT civil rights movement.”

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, called Gittings “a true pioneer,” and said he and his organization “mourn the loss of a courageous friend and fellow activist.”

“We know that future generations of civil rights advocates will learn from the shining example [Gittings] set,” Solmonese said.

Gittings and Lahusen lived in Philadelphia and Wilmington, Del., in their later years; they recently moved to an assisted living center in Kennett Square, Pa., where Gittings fell into a coma Sunday morning and died Sunday evening. In addition to Lahusen, Gittings is survived by her sister, Eleanor Gittings Taylor of San Diego. Lahusen has asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made in Barbara’s memory to Lambda Legal Defense Fund.

A memorial is currently being planned and details will be announced at a later date.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 23, 2007

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