A national memorial ceremony honoring the gay rights pioneer, Barbara Gittings took place at Independence Hall on Saturday. Speakers at the memorial included directors of national LGBT organizations Joe Somonese, executive director of the Human Rights Campaign, Matt Forman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Kevin Jennings, GLSEN aational director as well as gay pioneers Frank Kameny and Rev. Elder Troy Perry. Philadelphia Gay News publisher Mark Segal and radio host Debra D’Alessandro led the program which included an opening welcome from Philadelphia Mayor John F. Street.
Gittings was remembered at a this ceremony celebrating her life. Gittings died of breast cancer on Feb. 18 at the age of 74. She is survived by her life partner of 46 years, Kay Tobin Lahusen and her sister Eleanor Gittings Taylor.
Gittings was born in Vienna in 1932, the daughter of an American diplomat,
and spent much of her youth in Wilmington, Del. She entered Northwestern
University in 1949 to study drama but withdrew, consumed with independently
searching for materials about homosexuality. She scoured libraries in Chicago
but found little that was helpful or relevant.
Gittings founded the New York Chapter of the early lesbian organization
Daughters of Bilitis in 1958 and became the national editor of the
organization’s magazine The Ladder from 1963 to 1966. Working with Frank
Kameny of Washington, Gittings helped organize the National Reminder July 4th
Demonstrations for equal rights for homosexuals in front of Independence Hall
from 1965-69, among the earliest of such protests. She also participated in
the efforts that resulted in American Psychiatric Association declaring that
homosexuality was not an illness in 1973 and was recently give an award by the
association for her leadership in changing psychiatry. From 1971 to 1986,
Gittings headed the American Library Association’s Gay and Lesbian Task Force
and in recognition of her work she was recently awarded a prestigious life-
time membership by the association.
Of her achievements, Gittings said she was most proud of her editorial
leadership of DOB’s magazine, “The Ladder,” and her work with both the
American Library Association and the American Psychiatric Association to
promote the portrayal of gays as healthy individuals.