Woman of the Year 1964: Barbara Gittings


Little notes, typed on Dictaphone paper, used to come in the mail for me and my partner Susan. The scribbled initials on each were those of the editor of the Ladder and, sometimes, her partner Kay. Through such brief, dashed off, means she gathered news, reviews, stories and ,yes, illustrations from hundreds of gay women across the country to publish in this sole U.S. lesbian magazine. Two of my blog posts detail a few of my early interactions with Barbara Gittings. Time Magazine’s tribute to unsung women was an appropriate start to this Women’s History Month. It feels, at a time frozen in pandemic, an appropriate reminder of resistance to end this month of March with her cover and Michael Bedwell’s tribute as shared to OutHistory.
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Michael Bedwell

GAY RIGHTS PIONEER BARBARA GITTINGS’ SURVIVING PARTNER of 46 years Kay Tobin Lahusen called me yesterday to alert me to Barbara’s inclusion in “TIME” magazine’s 100 Women of the Year project. They commissioned 89 new “TIME” mock covers to commemorate 89 women who should have been on the magazine’s covers over its near century of existence. The remaining 11 are existing real covers of women who had been named Person of the Year.

BARBARA’S cover used a 1964 photo by Kay rendered by Serbian artist Ivana Besevic, and incorporates the motto “Gay Is Good” coined in 1968 by Barbara & Kay’s close friend and mentor Frank Kameny, the father of the modern gay rights movement. The accompanying text by “TIME’s” San Francisco Bureau Chief Katy Steinmetz reads:

“The Stonewall riots have become the focal point of the modern LGBTQ-rights movement, but they didn’t start it. The groundwork was laid in the previous decade by activists like Barbara Gittings, who understood that before marginalized people can prevail, they must understand that they are worthy and that they are not alone.

In an era when it was dangerous to be out, Gittings edited the Ladder, a periodical published by the nation’s first known lesbian-rights organization, the Daughters of Bilitis, creating a sense of national identity and providing a platform for resistance. In the August 1964 issue, her editorial blasted a medical report that described homosexuality as a disease, writing that it treated lesbians like her more as “curious specimens” than as humans.

Gittings would go on to be instrumental in getting the American Psychiatric Association to stop classifying homosexuality as a mental illness and in getting libraries to carry gay literature. Whether she was wielding a pen or a protest sign, the militant advocate had a simple message: when society said that being gay was an abomination, Gittings said that gay was good.”

Prints of the illustration are available at: https://fineartamerica.com/…/barbara-gittings-1964-time.html

Barbara was memorialized in 2012 along Chicago’s Legacy Walk, the world’s first outdoor museum of LGBT history. SEE: https://legacyprojectchicago.org/person/barbara-gittings

Lesbianville Lookback


This years Pride parade in Northampton drew 35,000 or 60,000 folks (depending on who reported), a visible change from the 300 or 800 (depending on who reported) Lesbians, gay men and allies who started the annual march down Main Street in 1982. Other contrasts are visible  in the fan photos of the 2019 event on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/NohoPrideOrg. Interesting, to me, was the conscious decision not to have the now  traditional rainbow arch be made of balloons this year, for environmental reasons.

On a historical note, for the day of the Pride parade the Hampshire Gazette published an extremely well researched feature article by Greta Jochem , “The Legend of ‘Lesbianville’: Looking back at a city nickname and claim to fame.” If you don’t get frustrated by the paywall, it includes not only the story of that coined term but  links to the 1990s national news coverage that led to and then piled on the straight media titillation.

https://www.gazettenet.com/Lesbianville-Lookback-25246526

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