Public Library Acquires Archive of Gay and Lesbian Rights Pioneers

The New York Public Library has acquired a major archive of letters, photos, manuscripts, publications and other materials accumulated by Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin Lahusen.

The New York Public Library has acquired a major archive of letters, photos, manuscripts, publications and other materials accumulated over decades by Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin Lahusen, two pioneers in the LGBT civil
rights movement.

Gittings, an activist, editor, and writer, died in February at age 74. She is survived byher life partner, Lahusen, a photojournalist and author.

The Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin Lahusen Gay History Papers and Photographs will reside at the Humanities and Social Sciences Library’s Manuscripts and Archives Division on 5th Ave. and 42nd St. This world-class repository includes among its collections an extensive range of materials documenting the history of gay and lesbian organizations and individuals.

Gittings’ papers document her founding in 1958 of the East Coast chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis, the first national lesbian rights organization, established in San Francisco in 1955, and her editorship of its publication, The Ladder, from 1963–66. Other materials highlight her participation in numerous gay rights organizations over the years and her crucial work with religious leaders, mental health professionals and the library community to change public attitudes toward homosexuality. She helped influence the American Psychiatric Association’s decision to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 1973 and she promoted the inclusion of gay and lesbian books in library collections.

The extensive photographic collection by Lahusen documents gay and lesbian activism, from images of early pickets, portraits of women for covers of The Ladder, and photos chronicling protests, parades and political campaigns through 2005. Also included are her files and oral histories used in the preparation of her book, The Gay Crusaders (1972).