Windy City Media Group Frontpage News


home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2023-02-22



Barbara Gittings: Gay Pioneer

This article shared 14579 times since Wed Jun 24, 2015
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

Her smile was perhaps her biggest asset.

Barbara Gittings countered the vitriol of homophobes by using any tactic at her disposal. Sometimes that was verbal debate. Or wearing a flowery dress, smiling, and carrying a protest sign. Or creative activism with a kissing booth. But mainly, Gittings used her persistence and boundless energy to wear down her enemies, winning victory after victory for the LGBTQ community over the course of her nearly five decades of activism.

Gittings and her colleague Frank Kameny are often viewed as the two most significant and longest-serving activists on behalf of the gay-rights movement, before it even used the term "gay" in a defining way.

Born in 1932, by the mid-1950s Gittings was on her way to a life of activism, launching the New York chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis in 1958, two years after meeting DOB's co-founders, Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, in California.

By her side for almost all of this work was Kay Tobin Lahusen. The women met in 1961 and were together until Gittings' death in 2007. Lahusen became a critical documentarian of the movement. She photographed some of the most important moments of the fledgling community, including the couple's own historic activist moments. She also wrote articles for gay newspapers, as well as chapters on Gittings for key movement books.

Gittings' long association with the Daughters of Bilitis included serving as editor of the group's national magazine, The Ladder, from 1963 to 1966. Gittings was becoming upset with the status quo of the homophile movement and soon pushed The Ladder in new directions, including using Lahusen's photos of actual lesbians on the cover, replacing the line drawings that had until then dominated the magazine.

As The Ladder addressed more controversial issues, including advocacy for more activism, Gittings also started to take to the streets in picket lines and rallies.

In 1965, she joined the pioneers who participated in the first wave of public gay pickets at the White House, at the Pentagon and at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. The first of five Annual Reminder Day July 4 pickets at Independence Hall drew 44 people, in 1965. Philadelphia is marking the 50th anniversary of those Reminder Day events in 2015, with several celebrations, panels and other events.

Gittings also joined Kameny in efforts to fight against institutional homophobia in a wide variety of places, from the Defense Department to the media. Kameny was acting as personal counsel to gays who had their security clearances suspended by the government. Gittings was assistant personal counsel.

"For gay men or lesbians in trouble, Frank and Barbara had explicit recommendations that boiled down to four vital points," Troy Perry and Thomas Swicegood wrote in their book Profiles in Gay & Lesbian Courage. "( 1 ) Say absolutely nothing, ( 2 ) sign nothing, ( 3 ) get counsel, and ( 4 ) fight back! Frank declared, 'It is the patriotic duty of every citizen to resist investigations and interrogations of homosexuals. Questions about homosexuals or homosexuality are never the proper concern of the government, and should not be answered.'"

Kameny and Gittings helped in the landmark case of Scott v. Macy, where Bruce Scott was denied a Defense Department job because of "immoral conduct." Kameny had urged the National Capital Area affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union to take on Scott's case, and it eventually did—after much pressure from Kameny. Ultimately, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said the charge was too vague, handing Scott the first major court victory for homosexual employment rights. [The case was argued December 17, 1964 and decided June 16, 1965.]

David Johnson documents this era in his book The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government. "The total number of men and women affected by the anti-homosexual purge is incalculable … [but] as many as five thousand suspected gay or lesbian employees may have lost their jobs with the federal government during the early days of the Cold War. At the very least, these partial statistics suggest that the total number of federal employees fired for homosexuality is well into the thousands."

One of Kameny and Gittings' higher-profile cases, on which they also worked with the ACLU, was that of Benning Wentworth, an electrical technician who worked for a private company that did secret work with the federal government. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported November 25, 1967, that Wentworth had been notified that his security clearance was revoked in 1966, after his name was found in the address book of a homosexual Air Force service member who was just an acquaintance, not a sexual partner. Harper's Magazine noted that the question was not whether Wentworth was homosexual; "rather, it was the essence of his defense that he was a publicly admitted, openly practicing, mentally competent adult homosexual, and was not, therefore, liable to the possibilities of blackmail, bribery, coercion, and pressure to have caused other homosexuals to be regarded as 'security risks.'"

Gittings is quoted as saying the only relevant question should be, "Is this person capable of safeguarding classified material?"

The New York Times reported on Wentworth's victory in May 1972, stating that "a district judge ordered the Defense Department to restore the security clearance it had revoked from Benning Wentworth."

At the same time they were defending gays in federal employment and military cases, Kameny and Gittings were still protesting in the streets and in other venues. Kameny, at Gittings' memorial event, said the East Coast Homophile Organizations coalition was succeeded by the North American Conference of Homophile Organizations in 1966. Both Kameny and Gittings attended the 1968 NACHO conference in Chicago, when Kameny revealed his "Gay Is Good" campaign. He said Gittings "actively supported" his efforts at NACHO.

Two of the biggest institutions Gittings helped to take on were the American Psychiatric Association and the American Library Association. Her groundbreaking efforts to change those two national organizations are among her most important achievements.

Though she was part of numerous short-term projects, Gittings also played an important role in organizations that have lasted for many decades.

In 1973, she was a founding member of the National Gay Task Force, now known as the National LGBTQ Task Force, alongside other key people from the movement. Gittings was also a charter member of the Gay Rights National Lobby, a major national gay political group. Steve Endean had been its leader from 1978, and he founded the Human Rights Campaign Fund as a political action committee to raise funds for candidates in 1980. There was a lot of debate about the need for two separate groups, so eventually GRNL and HRCF merged and became the Human Rights Campaign in 1985.

Despite years of work advocating for change against great resistance, Gittings remained an optimist. Her love of music is perhaps what carried her through all the battles.

She was ferocious, tenacious and committed beyond almost anyone else in the movement. And her accomplishments were garnished with that big, charming smile.

This article is excerpted from the new book Barbara Gittings: Gay Pioneer ( Prairie Avenue Productions ), by Tracy Baim, foreword by Lillian Faderman, photos by Kay Lahusen, available from in both B&W and color editions, and July 15 on Kindle, in color. It is also available at Women & Children First Bookstore in Chicago. Tracy Baim is publisher of Windy City Times,

The link to the B&W edition is: .

Color: .

This article shared 14579 times since Wed Jun 24, 2015
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email


Gay News

NATIONAL Trans Health Equity Act, financial report, male model dies, book news
In Maryland, both chambers of the Maryland General Assembly passed The Trans Health Equity Act, which would require state Medicaid to cover gender-affirming care and procedures for transgender patients, The Baltimore Banner reported. The bill is ...

Gay News

Book of Mormon's Sam Nackman knocks on Cadillac Palace door
The Book of Mormon is returning to Chicago on a mission to convert new followers into the musical fold. The masterminds behind the satirical cartoon series South Park, Matt Stone and Trey Parker created a smash ...

Gay News

Sasha Velour pulls back the curtain for The Big Reveal
Gender-fluid drag queen Sasha Velour is hitting the road with The Big Reveal Live Show! This 90-minute extravaganza will be staged for two nights at Broadway Playhouse on April 29 and 30, and features an evening ...

Gay News

Biden appoints Laura Ricketts to Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition
President Joe Biden has appointed Laura Ricketts—the lesbian co-owner of the Chicago Cubs, board chair of Chicago Cubs Charities and board chair of LPAC, which works to elect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer women and ...

Gay News

ALA: 2022 saw record demand of censorship of library books
On March 22, the American Library Association (ALA) released new data documenting 1,269 demands to censor library books and resources in 2022—the highest number of attempted book bans since the ALA began compiling data about censorship ...

Gay News

Affinity renews Burning Bowl tradition
On the afternoon of March 19, Affinity Community Services held Burning Bowl 2023 Renewal: And Still We Rise at the Pavilion at the Dan Ryan Woods. ...

Gay News

Center on Halsted to Honor Sen. Tammy Baldwin April 15, Human First Gala at The Geraghty
--From a press release - CHICAGO — Center on Halsted is pleased to announce that its inaugural Trailblazer Award will be presented to Senator Tammy Baldwin at its annual Human First Gala being held the evening of Saturday, April 15, in ...

Gay News

Navratilova says she is cancer-free
Legendary tennis figure Martina Navratilova said she is now cancer-free—four months after announcing she had been diagnosed with throat and breast cancer, ESPN reported. "As far as they know I'm cancer-free," Navratilova told Piers Morgan for ...

Gay News

Lambda Literary announces award finalists
--From a press release - Lambda Literary has announced the finalists in 25 categories for the 35th Annual Lambda Literary Awards. The finalists were selected by a panel of over 65 literary professionals from more than 1,350 book submissions. These selections ...

Gay News

House Musical, Coming of Age in the Age of House, coming to Hoover-Leppen Theatre
--From a press release - Campsongs Productions presents the world premiere of House Musical - Coming of Age in the Age of House, with book by Marcus Waller, music by Scott Free (with Michael Foley) and lyrics by Scott Free and ...

Gay News

Protest held outside New Life Covenant Church over alleged anti-LGBTQ practices
Now-former New Life Covenant Church parishioner Rosaly Andino, who is a lesbian, and her allies gathered across the street from the church in the Humboldt Park neighborhood March 12 to protest alleged anti-LGBTQ practices by Pastor David Marrero. ...

Gay News

LPAC expands board of directors, building on successful 2023 midterms
--From a press release - Washington, DC — LPAC, the national political organization dedicated to electing LGBTQ women and nonbinary people to public office, announced today that Liz Culley and Janelle Perez have joined its Board of Directors. LPAC is the ...

Gay News

WORLD Kenyan group, Alan Emtage, trans anchor, Hershey campaign
The Kenyan Supreme Court allowed an LGBTQI+-rights group to register as a non-governmental organization, The Washington Blade reported. Ten years ago, Eric Gitari, the former executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission ...

Gay News

Lightfoot concedes but other LGBTQ+ candidates make inroads
Incumbent Lori Lightfoot, the city's first Black lesbian mayor, conceded defeat the evening of Feb. 28, after a tumultuous term and a difficult election season, where she competed against eight challengers for her post. "I stand ...

Gay News

Singer Zolita zips through Chicago on a whirlwind tour
Zoe Montana Hoetzel has evolved into the multidimensional artist known as Zolita while cultivating a massive following. Her personality is multifaceted as well. She identifies as a lesbian, an activist and a witch, but she's also ...


Copyright © 2023 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.






About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Advanced Search     
Windy City Queercast      Queercast Archives     
Press  Releases      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast      Blogs     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam     
Privacy Policy     

Windy City Media Group publishes Windy City Times,
The Bi-Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.