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Philadelphia Honors Barbara Gittings
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 10/01/12
Last updated on: 10/01/12
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Barbara Gittings (left) with partner Kay Lahusen.

On October 1, 2012, Philadelphia marked the beginning of LGBT History Month by dedicating a city center block in honor of Barbara Gittings, the late glbtq activist who resided in the city for thirty years.

As Mike Dunne reports in CBS Philly, a community choir heralded the dedication of the block of Locust Street in Philadelphia's "gayborhood" between 12th and 13th Streets as "Barbara Gittings Way."

Gittings (1932-2007), sometimes known as the "Mother of the LGBT Rights Movement," was instrumental in having homosexuality removed from the American Psychiatric Association's list of mental disorders; founded the New York chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis and edited its magazine, The Ladder; and worked tirelessly within the American Library Association to make materials with glbtq content more accessible to the reading public.

Gittings, along with Frank Kameny, helped steer the American homophile movement toward greater militancy, including the embrace of direct action tactics. She and Kameny organized and participated in early gay rights demonstrations, picketing the White House in 1965 to protest federal employment discrimination and also participating in annual demonstrations on July 4 at Philadelphia's Independence Hall.

The renaming of the block of Locust Street "Barbara Gittings Way" was spearheaded by Malcolm Lazin of Philadelphia's Equality Forum.

"She really stepped forward in 1965, at a moment in time when almost no one was out." Lazin told Dunne. "It was really a remarkably courageous thing that she did. She, like a Rosa Parks, helped to launch a civil rights movement."

As Jen Colletta reported in the Philadelphia Gay News in June, the proposal to name the block Barbara Gittings Way sailed through the Philadelphia City Council when it was proposed by the Equality Forum and sponsored by Councilman Mark Squilla.

"Washington, D.C., has a Frank Kameny Way and San Francisco has a Harvey Milk Plaza, so we thought it was important we in Philadelphia honor Barbara, who we view as the mother of the LGBT civil-rights movement," Lazin told the PGN.

Councilman Squilla was enthiastic about designating the particular block in Gittings' honor. "What better place than right in the Gayborhood? That block of Locust is right in the middle of the Gayborhood and a location that people can really relate to. I thought it seemed like a good fit."

Gittings' longtime partner Kay Lahusen also welcomed the initiative.

"I know Barbara would have been thrilled by this turn of events had she lived to see it," she said. "I'm very grateful to Equality Forum for initiating this idea and especially am happy that this block is in the very heart of the Gayborhood."

In the video below, from the Equality Forum documentary "Our Pioneers," Gittings speaks of her early activism.

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