February 17, 2018

Gittings Archive Acquired by New York Public Library

By LJ Staff

A major archive of letters, photos, handbills, manuscripts, publications and other materials regarding gay and lesbian rights has been donated to the New York Public Library by the late Barbara Gittings, the force behind the American Library Association’s (ALA) Gay Task Force (now the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Round Table [GLBTRT]), who died in February, and her life partner, photojournalist and author Kay Tobin Lahusen. The Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin Lahusen Gay History Papers and Photographs will be placed at the Manuscripts and Archives Division of NYPL’s Humanities and Social Sciences Library.

"The collection donated by Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin Lahusen is a remarkable first-hand chronicle detailing the battles of gays and lesbians to overcome the prejudice and restrictions that were prevalent prior to the activism and protest movements that started in the 1960s," said NYPL president Paul LeClerc in a news release. Gittings’s papers include her role in founding in 1958 the East Coast chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis, the first national lesbian organization, and her editorship of the organization’s publication, The Ladder. Among other things, her work influenced the American Psychiatric Association’s decision to remove homosexuality from a list of mental illnesses. In 2003, Gittings was awarded ALA’s highest recognition, an honorary membership, notably for efforts to make gay and lesbian materials more available for library use.

Lahusen’s contribution includes photographs documenting gay activism, as well as files and oral histories used in the preparation of her 1972 book The Gay Crusaders (1972). Along with their personal papers and photographs, the couple donated an extensive research collection of print, audiovisual, and other ephemeral materials about gay and lesbian activism in the United States and around the world.