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Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin Lahusen gay history papers and photographs

Collection History

Gays and lesbians in the United States began to mobilize politically in the 1950s with the founding of the Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitis in California. This activist impulse spread nationwide, but did not reach critical mass until the late 1960s due to the influence of the African American civil rights, feminist, and anti-war student movements. In the wake of the Stonewall Riots in 1969, the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) was formed in New York City by an alliance of both veteran and youth activists. GAA, along with the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) and Lesbian Feminist activists, made major transformations in the politics of sexuality and gender in the United States.

Among the many activist groups that worked to archive this history was the International Gay Information Center (IGIC), which grew out of the History Committee of GAA. The IGIC archives operated as a community-based repository until 1988, when the organization's directors gave the collection to The New York Public Library. The IGIC archives, along with other archives and collections subsequently donated to the Library, such as the Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin Lahusen Gay History Papers and Photographs, comprehensively document the gay and lesbian civil rights struggles in New York since the 1950s and have made NYPL one of the most important archives of LGBT history in the United States.

During the 1980s-90s, activists in New York City drew upon the tactics of these earlier LGBT organizations to face the challenge of the AIDS crisis. They renewed these strategies in order to fight social stigma, demand treatment and support for people with HIV/AIDS, and create positive strategies to prevent the spread of the disease. Gay Men's Health Crisis and ACT UP were among the most pivotal of these pioneering organizations. Building upon these growing strengths in LGBT history, the Library expanded its focus to document the history of HIV/AIDS activism in New York City, collecting the archives of major organizations, activists, and artists connected with this social movement.

Related Resources

1969: The Year of Gay Liberation <>

Carter, David. Stonewall: the Riots that Sparked the Gay Revolution. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2004.

Clendinen, Dudley. Out for Good: the Struggle to Build a Gay Rights Movement in America. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999.

Crimp, Douglas. AIDS Demo Graphics. Seattle: Bay Press, 1990.

Duberman, Martin B. Stonewall. New York: Dutton, 1993.

Eisenbach, David. Gay Power: An American Revolution. New York: Carroll & Graf, 2006.

Gould, Deborah. Moving Politics: Emotion and ACT UP's Fight against AIDS. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 2009.

Shilts, Randy. And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS epidemic. New York: St Martin's Griffin, 2007.

Collection Data

Barbara Gittings (1932-2007) and Kay Tobin Lahusen (1930-) were gay civil rights pioneers and partners for nearly forty-six years. The collection contains their personal and professional papers, photographs by Lahusen created in the course of forty-five years of gay rights activism, and the extensive collection of materials they gathered and preserved to document the movement. The collection also includes Gittings’ extensive correspondence with fellow activists, most notably Frank Kameny, records of her editorial work on The Ladder, interviews conducted for Lahusen’s book, The Gay Crusaders, and organizational files from their work in such organizations as the Daughters of Bilitis and several other early homophile groups; the Gay Task Force of the American Library Association; the Gay Activists Alliance; and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
Gittings, Barbara, 1932-2007 (Creator)
Tobin, Kay (Creator)
Dates / Origin
Date Created: 1855 - 2009
Library locations
Manuscripts and Archives Division
Shelf locator: MssCol 6397
Gay rights -- United States
Gay activists -- United States
Lesbian activists
Gay liberation movement -- United States
Lesbians -- United States
Homosexuality -- United States -- History -- 20th century
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (U.S.)
Gay Activists Alliance
Daughters of Bilitis
American Library Association. Gay Task Force
Biographical/historical: Barbara Gittings (1932-2007) began her involvement with the homophile movement in 1958, when she established the East Coast chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB), the first lesbian organization in the United States, which had been founded in San Francisco in 1955. From 1963 to 1966, Gittings edited The Ladder, the DOB’s national magazine. She also marched in the annual Independence Day pickets in the 1960s, which were the first demonstrations for gay rights. From 1971 to 1986, Gittings acted as the coordinator of the American Library Association’s Gay Task Force, creating gay bibliographies and topical reading lists. Her involvement with panels and exhibits at American Psychiatric Association (APA) conventions directly influenced the APA’s decision in December 1973 to remove homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses. In addition, Gittings was a charter member of the board of directors of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (1973) and the Gay Rights National Lobby (1976), which later merged with the Human Rights Campaign. Kay Tobin Lahusen (1930-) began her involvement with the homophile movement in 1961, when she joined DOB. Lahusen is known, often under her pen name Kay Tobin, for being the first openly gay photojournalist. She photographed and reported for The Ladder and Gay Newsweekly and is responsible for many famous pre-Stonewall photographs. Some of the most reproduced images from this era are Lahusen’s depiction of the Independence Day pickets, in which she also marched. In 1970, Lahusen co-founded the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA), and later organized the Gay Women’s Alternative in New York City. In 1972, Lahusen co-authored The Gay Crusaders, the first collection of short biographies of gay activists.
Physical Description
Extent: 79.16 linear feet (170 boxes, 7 oversized folders); 305 audio files, 4 dvds
Type of Resource
MSS Unit ID: 6397
NYPL catalog ID (B-number): b19071200
Universal Unique Identifier (UUID): 787827a0-c5d9-012f-a36c-58d385a7bc34
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