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social sciences

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Gittings, Barbara (1932-2007)  
page: 1  2  

The APA Board of Trustees removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 1973, a decision subsequently validated by the association's membership. Gittings, who was interviewed by Philadelphia newspapers on that occasion, wryly recalled "a wonderful headline"--"20 Million Homosexuals Gain Instant Cure."

Gittings was particularly concerned with making glbtq literature available to readers. While doing a gay news show on radio station WBAI in New York in 1970 she learned that some gay members of the American Library Association were organizing an interest group, the Task Force on Gay Liberation (renamed the Gay Task Force in 1975).

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Since the ALA convention was open to people who were not professional librarians, Gittings attended. She quickly became a leading participant in the Task Force on Gay Liberation's first project, compiling "a short, manageable list of the most positive materials" on gay topics.

From a modest beginning with thirty-seven titles, the Gay Bibliography soon grew enormously and became a valuable tool for libraries and schools. The compilers often received requests for shorter lists dealing with specialized topics and were pleased to comply.

At the 1971 ALA convention in Dallas, the Task Force on Gay Liberation presented its first Gay Book Award to Alma Routsong, who wrote as Isabel Miller, for A Place for Us (1969, later republished as Patience and Sarah).

At the Dallas convention Gittings and her colleagues made a "very bold" move by setting up a kissing booth called "Hug a Homosexual" in their exhibit space. No convention-goers took advantage of the offer of free same-sex hugs and kisses, and so Gittings and Routsong embraced each other while television news cameras rolled.

Task Force panels, initiated in 1975, became a fixture at ALA conventions and have been very well received.

Gittings pushed to have the annual Gay Book Award made an official award of the ALA. As she stepped down as coordinator of Gay Task Force in 1986, she was able to announce that the proposal had been adopted.

Gittings was doubly honored with an award of her own. In 2001 GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) instituted the Barbara Gittings Award for activism, of which Gittings was the first recipient.

Gittings appeared in the documentary film Out of the Past (1998, directed by Jeff Dupre), which presents the lives of a number of American gay men and lesbians including Sarah Orne Jewett (played by Gwyneth Paltrow) and her partner Annie Adams Fields (Cherry Jones), Bayard Rustin (Leland Gantt), and a lesser known figure, Henry Gerber (Edward Norton), a postal clerk who founded one of the country's first gay rights organizations. Gittings, appearing for herself, displayed "a clipped, composed eloquence" according to reviewer Stephen Holden.

Following a brave battle with breast cancer, Gittings died on February 18, 2007. She was survived by Lahusen.

Together with Lahusen, Gittings was active in glbtq organizations until the very end of her life. Fittingly, the couple planned eventually to donate their extensive collection of books, documents, and photographs to libraries and archives, where they will undoubtedly be a boon to scholars and other readers as well as a fitting tribute to the couple's life of commitment to activism for gay rights.

Linda Rapp

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literature >> Overview:  Awards

The contemporary literary awards given specifically to honor glbtq books may be seen as an outgrowth of the modern American gay rights movement, so intertwined are they with the movement for equality.

social sciences >> Overview:  Homophile Movement, U. S.

The homophile movement of the United States refers to organizations and political strategies employed by homosexuals from the end of World War II to 1970.

social sciences >> Overview:  Libraries and Archives

Libraries and archives have been the sources of information crucial to the difficult process of identity formation and have been significant repositories for the restoration and reconstruction of queer history.

arts >> Overview:  Photography: Lesbian, Post-Stonewall

Since Stonewall lesbian photographers have created an enduring archive that documents lesbian lives, searches for a lesbian sensibility, and explores various issues of particular import to the lesbian community.

social sciences >> Overview:  Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy, the clinical process of treating mental and emotional health problems, has recently been energized by a movement to depathologize homosexuality and to enhance the dignity and self-respect of glbtq clients.

social sciences >> Daughters of Bilitis

The first national lesbian political and social organization in the United States, the Daughters of Bilitis was a significant part of the pre-Stonewall lesbian and gay rights movement.

social sciences >> Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) is a watchdog group dedicated to promoting accurate representations of the glbtq community in the media.

literature >> Grier, Barbara

As bibliographer, reviewer, collector, editor, and co-founder of Naiad Press, Barbara Grier was an important nurturer of lesbian literature.

literature >> Jewett, Sarah Orne

Sarah Orne Jewett is a major figure in the literature of female romantic friendship, the precursor of modern lesbian literature.

arts >> Jones, Cherry

Versatile American actress Cherry Jones became the first out lesbian to win a Tony Award when she was chosen as Best Actress in 1995.

social sciences >> Kameny, Frank

One of the founding fathers of the American gay rights movement, Frank Kameny helped radicalize the homophile movement, preparing the way for the mass movement for equality initiated by the Stonewall Riots of 1969.

social sciences >> The Legacy Walk (Chicago)

The Legacy Walk in Chicago is an outdoor history museum that reclaims and celebrates glbtq contributions to world history and culture.

social sciences >> Lyon, Phyllis, (b. 1924) and Del Martin (1921-2008)

Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin were among the founders of a lesbian liberation movement that developed and enlarged the very definition of lesbianism.

social sciences >> Manford, Morty

A pioneer in the gay liberation movement, New York activist Morty Manford inspired his parents to help found the organization that became Parents, Families and Friends of Gays and Lesbians (PFLAG).

social sciences >> Mattachine Society

One of the earliest American gay movement organizations, the Mattachine Society was dedicated to the cultural and political liberation of homosexuals; but in the face of McCarthyism, it adopted conservative policies of accommodationism.

literature >> Miller, Isabel

The fiction of Isabel Miller explores and celebrates relationships between women, often across class lines.

social sciences >> Rustin, Bayard

One of the key African-American civil rights activists of the twentieth century, Bayard Rustin and his legacy have long been obscured because of embarrassment over his homosexuality and early involvement in the Communist Party.

social sciences >> Sagarin, Edward (Donald Webster Cory)

Edward Sagarin, writing as Donald Webster Cory, produced important books that prepared the stage for the gay liberation movement, but under his own name he later attacked the very movement he inspired.

social sciences >> Vincenz, Lilli

Veteran activist Lilli Vincenz, who commenced her activism before Stonewall, also collected thousands of documents about the movement for glbtq rights; donated to the Library Congress, they provide scholars an invaluable resource.


Gittings, Barbara. "Gays in Library Land." Daring to Find Our Own Names. James V. Carmichael, Jr., ed. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998. 81-93.

Holden, Stephen. "Finding Courage and Anguish on the Road to Gay Pride." New York Times (July 31, 1998): E22.

Marcus, Eric. Making History: The Struggle for Gay and Lesbian Equal Rights 1945-1990: An Oral History. New York: HarperCollins, 1992. 104-26, 213-27.

Perry, Troy D., and Thomas L. P. Swicegood. "New Thoughts on Unthinkable Subjects." Profiles in Gay and Lesbian Courage. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1991. 153-78.

"Special Awards." GLAAD Notes 3 (June 30, 2001): 5.

Stein, Marc. "Gittings, Barbara." Lesbian Histories and Cultures: An Encyclopedia. Bonnie Zimmerman, ed. New York: Garland, 2000. 335.


    Citation Information
    Author: Rapp, Linda  
    Entry Title: Gittings, Barbara  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated October 23, 2008  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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