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LGBT People Of History Part Seventy Two Barbra Gittings
Born Barbra Gittings in Vienna, Austria on July 31st 1932. Her father was John Sterett Gittings and her mother was Elizabeth Brooks. Her father was a US Diplomat.
During the outbreak of World War Two the family left Austria and returned to America settling in Wilmington, Delaware.
Barbra was a Catholic. She was so engrossed in Catholicism that she considered becoming a nun during her childhood. However whilst she was at high school, Barbra was rejected for the ‘National Honour Society’ because of her homosexual inclinations, as a teacher had stated.
After high school she attended the North Western University where she majored in Drama. She had a nonsexual close friendship with another female student. However pressure was put on this friendship after many rumours were spread about the two being lesbian. Although these rumours were malicious and lies it cause Barbra to examine her sexual orientation consulting a psychiatrist who told her that she was a lesbian and he could ‘cure’ her. She could not afford the regular visits to the psychiatrist and her friend decided that they should see less of each other as they did not want to encourage the rumours.
Later Barbra decided to read as much as she could on the topic - desperate to learn more and understand her sexuality. Sadly she found very little in the way of information as most books referred to homosexuality as perverse, obscene, odd and abnormal. The books also referred to homosexuals as deviants and mentally ill. Sadly she also found that the books mainly referred to homosexual men and there was hardly any mention of lesbian women.
In her venture to learn more about homosexuality she took a night class in ‘Abnormal Psychology’ and this was where she met the first woman to enter her life whom she had a brief affair.
Later she travelled to California where she met Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin who had both co-founded the ‘Daughters of Billitis’ (DOB) in San Francisco. After much discussion both Del and Phyllis had asked Barbra to start a chapter of the DOB in New York in 1953. She did this serving as the Chapter’s president for the first three years. In 1963 she went on to become the editor of DOB’s magazine ‘The Ladder’ until 1966.
In 1965 she marched in the first gay picket lines at the White House, the US State Department and the Independence Hall in Philadelphia – protesting against the Federal Government’s Policy on the Discrimination of Homosexuals.
In the 1970s Barbra was doing a lot more activism for equality.
She pushed the American Library Association for more visibility for gays and lesbians in the profession.
She also kissed Isabel Miller in front of television cameras at the Dallas Convention Centre though it was met with a negative reaction. It was shown twice on the evening news, once again in the morning – and it put them on the map.
Barbra helped to start the National Gay Task Force in1973. She also inspired nurses to form the Gay Nurses Alliance in 1973.
She has appeared in many documentary films such as
Out of the Past,
Barbra was also mentioned in the 2007 edition of The Advocate on a list of their 40 favourite gay and lesbian heroes.
Barbra met her partner Kay Tobin Lahusen at a picnic in Rhode Island. Barbra died on 18th February 2007 after a long battle with breast cancer. Both she and Kay were together for 46 years.
Barbra was awarded a lifetime membership in the American Library Association, and the ALA named an annual award for the best gay or lesbian novel the The Barbara Gittings Award. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance against Defamation (GLAAD) also named an activist award in honour of her at her memorial service.
She will always be remembered as a pioneer and activist of the Gay movement for her work for equality spanning over four decades.
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