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Vincenz, Lilli (b. 1937)  
 
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Lilli Vincenz is a longtime advocate for glbtq rights, having commenced her activism even before Stonewall. In 2013 she donated a collection of approximately ten thousand documents--including print, photo, and video records--to the Library of Congress, providing scholars researching the early days of the movement for glbtq equality a rare and invaluable resource.

A native of Germany, born in Hamburg on September 26, 1937, Vincenz came to the United States with her parents as a child. She recognized her lesbianism early on, but, she stated in an interview with Kathy Belge of About, "[i]t became painful after a while to realize that I was gay and I didn't know anyone else who was gay. I was extremely lonely."

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Vincenz told Jack Nichols of Gay Today that "[t]he German word 'Lebenskünstler' was used quite often in my family and means someone who knows how to live, who has mastered the art of living." She decided "to become a college teacher to help people learn the art of living through literature," and, in pursuit of that goal, earned a bachelor's degree in French and German at Douglass College in 1959 and a master's degree in English at Columbia University in 1960. She did not, however, seek a job in academia, but rather worked for a year as an editor at the Prentice-Hall publishing company in New York City.

While living there, Vincenz sought to connect with other lesbians and also contemplated a career change. She recounted to Belge, "I remember walking around the Village and looking for a gay bar and I couldn't find one. . . . Then I heard about Provincetown and that there were gay people there. . . . I . . . met some gay women at . . . a very nice little bar with a piano and people would sing, and it was very convivial. . . . I found out that some women they knew were in the Army. And that made me think that I wanted to join the Army for two reasons. One, I knew gay women would be there. But I also wanted to find out if I should become a therapist."

Vincenz enlisted in the Women's Army Corps. In 1963, when she was nine months into her service and working at Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C., her roommate outed her as a lesbian, and she was given an administrative discharge under honorable conditions.

After leaving the Army, Vincenz remained in the nation's capital and quickly joined the Mattachine Society of Washington (MSW), mainly, she explained to Belge, because "[i]t's the only [homophile organization] I could find" in the city. (She was aware of the Daughters of Bilitis in New York, but they did not have a branch in Washington.) In addition, she declared herself "very impressed" by the founder of the MSW, Frank Kameny, whom she lauded as "a tutor . . . so focused and so brilliant."

Vincenz described the era to Nichols as "an exhilarating time," but it was also a challenging one. Homosexuality was still considered a disease by the psychiatric community, and the number of people advocating for glbtq rights was relatively small. Vincenz joined them, taking on a variety of roles.

Writing pseudonymously as Lily Hansen, Vincenz became the editor of and a contributor to The Homosexual Citizen, a small magazine--usually just twenty pages or so--published by the MSW from January 1966 until May 1967, when she quit after Kameny and some other members of the executive board rejected an article that Vincenz had already accepted without giving her a chance to speak about her choice. The article in question was about astrology. To Kameny, whose academic training was in astronomy, the subject was anathema. Vincenz thought that readers might find it amusing.

Earlier, Vincenz had taken a stand for the visibility of glbtq people by appearing on a program on the Washington, D.C. television station WOOK with Kameny and Nichols, both of whom the host of the show had previously insulted on the air. Nichols recalled that the host had, however, "bent over backwards being polite to [Vincenz]" on the March 2, 1967 broadcast.

She had previously, in January 1966, become the first woman willing to pose for a full-face portrait on the cover of the lesbian magazine The Ladder. Earlier images had obscured the identity of the women by showing them from the back or hiding their faces with sunglasses.

Vincenz was also taking part in pickets for glbtq rights. She participated in a demonstration in front of the White House in April 1965 to protest the Cuban government's internment of gay men in work camps. On July 4 of the same year she marched in a picket in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. The protesters dressed primly--blouses and skirts for women, suits and ties for men. The messages on their signs were vetted by organizers to preclude anything that might be too inflammatory.

Vincenz participated in the four Independence Day pickets that ensued, the last of them coming just days after Stonewall, a watershed moment in glbtq history in the United States.

"The whole notion of gay people publicly expressing their sentiments in that fashion was beyond conceptualization until we started doing it," Kameny stated to Eils Lotozo of the Philadelphia Inquirer. "If we had not persisted, there would have been no Stonewall."

But there was Stonewall and, with it, an empowerment and increased visibility for glbtq people. In 1971 Vincenz became an active member of the campaign to elect Kameny to the United States Congress as a non-voting delegate from the District of Columbia. Kameny was not successful in his bid for election even though, as Vincenz related to Nichols, "the Mattachine Society of Washington telephone rang off the hook" with calls from gay voters. The callers, stated Vincenz, included "[m]any women [who] wanted to meet others, and my phone number was the only one available for giving out."

The level of interest from queer women prompted Vincenz and her partner at the time to make their home the venue for a Gay Women's Open House, held regularly on Wednesday nights from 1971 to 1978.

During those same years Vincenz began pursuing another academic degree, this time in psychology, after a friend, Dr. George Weinberg, the author of Society and the Healthy Homosexual (1972), told her that he thought that she would do well as a therapist for glbtq people. Vincenz earned a master's degree from George Mason University in 1976 and entered into practice. In 1990 she added a Ph.D. in human development and psychology from the University of Maryland to her credentials.

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