Scope and arrangement
This collection chronicles Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin Lahusen’s careers as activists as well as their efforts to document the gay rights movement from the 1960s to 2007. The breadth of material compiled is impressive not only in content, but in its scope: it spans the gay rights movement from the first sustainable homophile organizations to the twenty-first century’s debates on gay marriage. According to Barbara Gittings, the homophile movement she joined in 1956 consisted of a club of 200 people spread across the United States. This collection documents how that scattered group of 200 grew into a highly visible socio-political movement by tracing the donors' activities in pre- and post-Stonewall America.
Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin Lahusen were both involved in the pre-Stonewall homophile movement. Gittings and Lahusen’s activities with the Daughters of Bilitis are strongly documented, particularly their editorial contributions to the organization’s national magazine, The Ladder. Other homophile organizations represented in this collection include the East Coast Homophile Organizations, Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations, Homophile Action League, Mattachine Society, National Planning Conference of Homophile Organizations, and the North American Conference of Homophile Organizations.
The collection contains forty-four years of correspondence with Frank Kameny, another pre-Stonewall gay rights pioneer, as well as case files, book projects, and interviews. Particularly notable is the documentation of Gittings and Kameny’s activities as counselors in cases of discrimination against homosexuals in federal employment and the armed services.
The first organized demonstrations for gay rights were pickets. From 1965 to 1969, both Gittings and Lahusen participated in these pickets at Independence Hall, the White House, and the Pentagon, among other locations. This collection uniquely documents these pickets through correspondence; ephemeral materials, including planning documents, instructions to picketers, and press releases; and photographs. Some of the most well-known images from the pre-Stonewall gay rights movement are Lahusen’s photographs of the Annual Reminder Day, or Independence Day, pickets. These photographs of homophile America, as well as those from the immediate post-Stonewall movement, visually capture the gay rights movement and can be viewed online in the New York Public Library’s Digital Gallery.
After the Stonewall riots, Gittings’ and Lahusen’s focus turned to the presentation and dissemination of accurate, positive information on homosexuality, especially to counteract its depiction as an illness by the psychiatric profession. Gittings’ interest in the relationship between psychiatry and homosexuality is documented throughout the collection. There is correspondence regarding her own treatment as a young adult; Daughter of Bilitis research committee files on psychiatry; and subject files on “homosexuality: ‘expert opinions’ and the sickness question;” “mental health, psychiatry, and counseling”; “psychiatry and mental health”; and “psychiatry and research.”
Much of Gittings’ advocacy work was done via her leadership of the American Library Association’s Gay Task Force (ALA GTF), the first gay caucus in a professional organization. The collection exhaustively documents the first sixteen years, 1970 to 1986, of the ALA GTF, during fifteen of which Gittings served as coordinator. A particular strength of this documentation concerns the compilation of gay bibliographies. The Task Force created the bibliographies to identify resources with positive portrayals of homosexuality to remedy the dearth of information available in libraries at the time.
One of the positive early portrayals of homosexuals is in Lahusen’s book, The Gay Crusaders. In addition to her notes and drafts, the collection contains sound recordings of interviews with twenty one gay activists, fifteen of whom were profiled in her 1972 work.
Interviews, film appearances, and speaking engagements would later become a second career for Gittings: her post-Stonewall activities were dominated by lecture schedules. Although she often acted as a cheerful ambassador to gay life, Gittings’ passion was educating people on gay history. Due to the lack of information available in libraries when they were young, Gittings and Lahusen felt a responsibility to document the history they shaped. Gay-themed materials were consciously assembled and incorporated into their personal papers to create the most comprehensive collection possible.
While documenting their careers as gay activists, the collection also provides insight into their personal lives as individuals and as a couple of over forty-five years. Gittings’ entire life is represented in this collection, from childhood photographs to a video recording of her memorial service. Including Gittings and Lahusen’s family papers and personal files, the collection spans the years 1855 to 2009.
Overall, the donors’ filing system has been retained. There are many filing inconsistencies, repetitious folder titles, and the like. The same material may be found in different series throughout the collection. All files relating to the gay rights movement should be considered to have been in active use until the time of donation. Researchers should check all possible locations relevant to a given topic. For instance, researchers interested in Gittings’ work with Frank Kameny should review the correspondence series as well as the organizational files, photographs, book projects files and speeches, as well as the interviews conducted for The Gay Crusaders.
The Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin Lahusen gay history papers and photographs are arranged in ten series:
Fifty years of correspondence with Gittings and Lahusen’s friends, fellow activists, researchers, and admirers make up this series. The majority of the correspondence dates from the 1990s to the 2000s, with the notable exception of a small amount of correspondence from the 1960s-1970s. For correspondence relating to the homophile movement, see the appropriate organizations in Series II. A significant amount of correspondence related to The Ladder, the Daughter of Bilitis’ magazine, can be found there. Additional correspondence is present in every series in the collection with the exception of Series VI. Photographs and Series X. Artifacts.
The correspondence is arranged alphabetically by the surname of the correspondent. However, correspondence about particular individuals is also present. Material unsorted by the donors has been arranged chronologically at the end of the series. In cases where an individual has a dedicated folder, it should not be assumed that all correspondence by that individual is in that folder. The chronological folders should be checked, as well other relevant series throughout the collection.
Many of the correspondence files also include press clippings, speeches and writings, photographs, and ephemera. Examples include the files on John Fryer, Foster Gunnison, Frank Kameny, Jack Nichols, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, Ros Regelson, and Lilli Vincenz.
There are numerous files pertaining to Gittings’ work with Frank Kameny. In addition to the correspondence generated over the course of their forty-four year friendship, filed here are records of the discrimination cases on which Gittings worked with Kameny, papers concerning his own federal employment discrimination case, materials from his Congressional campaign, and press clippings.
This series charts the involvement of Gittings and Lahusen in organizations throughout their careers as activists. Gittings lived as a public figure and her involvement in organizations is often noted; Lahusen participated more privately.
The types of material and the level of documentation of their work with individual organizations will differ. Some sections, like the American Library Association’s Gay Task Force and the Daughters of Bilitis, vividly represent the donors’ involvement through years of correspondence, drafts of publications, and participation in conference proceedings. Other sections, like the American Psychiatric Association and some files in Other organizations, may primarily consist of printed matter collected by the donors, with sparse evidence of their participation.
Some correspondence written on behalf of early homophile organizations may have been separated by the donors prior to donation and may be found in Series I. Correspondence. This is especially true with correspondents Foster Gunnison and Frank Kameny. It is advised that researchers check relevant organizations, any related organizations, and the general correspondence series for correspondence affiliated with homophile organizations. Selected ephemera and printed material from these organizations may be found in subject files and with lecture materials for speaking engagements.
The organizational papers are arranged alphabetically by organization name:
- A. American Library Association’s Gay Task Force
- B. American Psychiatric Association
- C. Daughters of Bilitis
- D. East Coast Homophile Organizations
- E. Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations
- F. Gay Activists Alliance
- G. Gay Rights National Lobby and the Human Rights Campaign
- H. Homophile Action League
- I. Mattachine Society
- J. National Gay Archives and Library Committee
- K. National Gay Task Force
- L. National Planning Conference of Homophile Organizations
- M. North American Conference for Homophile Organizations
- N. Pennsylvania Council for Sexual Minorities
- O. Other organizations
The subject files are arranged alphabetically and consist of materials grouped topically by the donors. The subjects primarily consist of topics, such as homosexuality, gay marriage, and the military; but also include people, places, and organizations. Although the vast majority of the subject files concern gay rights, other interests of the donors are represented, including extensive documentation regarding their own archival collection, listed as “Gittings and Lahusen archival collection.”
Subject files dated before 1970 may contain materials culled by the donors from their files on various homophile organizations. The subject files contain correspondence, ephemera and printed matter, press clippings, photographs, notes, syllabi, and cartoons.
The speaking engagements series records Gittings’ active schedule of lectures and workshops and is divided into General files, Lecture materials, and Speeches.
The General files remain as Gittings organized them: some files are arranged chronologically while others are arranged alphabetically by venue. The General files include correspondence, ephemera, and press clippings relating to her speaking engagements. The Lecture materials consist of resource files used for her speaking engagements and contain image transparencies, notes, drafts, handouts, and role playing cards for workshops. The Speeches section contains correspondence, drafts, notes, and final versions of speeches given by Gittings.
The writings series is divided into Writings by Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin Lahusen and Writings by other authors.
The photographs series include Professional and activist photography, mainly taken by Lahusen, and Snapshots.
The exhibit materials series is arranged alphabetically. The series relates to exhibits curated by Kay Tobin Lahusen with the exception of an informal exhibit by Randy Wicker, which was displayed in his storefront window in 1994 and later given to Lahusen. Materials include exhibition panels, photographs, and handouts; as well as correspondence, notes, text captions, reviews, and press clippings. For photographs of Lahusen’s exhibits, see the relevant years in Subseries VI.B. Snapshots.
The family papers are divided into groups related to Barbara Gittings’ family and Kay Tobin Lahusen’s family. The vast majority of this series consists of materials related to the Gittings and Brooks families with few items belonging to Lahusen. This series contains correspondence, photographs, family histories, awards and honors, as well as information regarding Gittings family material in other archives.
Correspondence between relatives and her parents, Elizabeth (Patsy) Brooks Gittings and John Sterett Gittings, concern Barbara Gittings as a child and young adult. Particularly notable is correspondence between Barbara and her parents, whom she called Mimi and Sterett, and a small file of correspondence between Barbara, Sterett, and a psychiatrist regarding Barbara’s treatment for homosexuality.
Among the Lahusen family papers are a few pages of a family member’s diary expressing concern over Kay, circa 1954.
Gittings and Lahusen’s personal files provide insight into their personal lives, even as they are tied to their work as gay rights activists. The files consist of awards and honors; curriculum vitae; interviews, film appearances, and press clippings; as well as materials relating to Gittings’ illness and death, including sound recordings of her vocal performances and a video recording of her memorial service. The video recording is unavailable pending preservation transfer.
Artifacts retained here were created, worn, and collected by Gittings and Lahusen. The artifacts relate to their participation, and span their involvement, in the gay rights movement for over forty years. These items are arranged alphabetically by object type. An item of special note is Gittings’ peacock dress, which she wore in the famous Independence Day picket photograph taken by Nancy Tucker in 1969. Gay-themed buttons collected by Gittings and Lahusen include those from early in the movement, such as “Equality for Homosexuals,” distributed by the Janus Society, reportedly the second oldest gay button (circa 1966); “Gay Is Good” buttons (circa 1968); and “Kameny for Congress” campaign buttons (1971).