Waymon Hudson

A defining moment...

Filed By Waymon Hudson | March 16, 2008 12:29 PM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, The Movement
Tags: Barbara Gittings, gay history

I've been doing research for an educational project on LGBT activism and came across this picture. PhotobucketI get goosebumps every time I see it. I wanted to share it, especially in light of Women's History Month.

Four years before the Stonewall riots, in 1965, Barbara Gittings and 25 other gays and lesbians marched in front of the White House to protest employment discrimination in the federal government. The sign she carried -- "Sexual preference is irrelevant to federal employment" -- is now at the Smithsonian, a gift to the nation last October by fellow activist Frank Kameny.

Gittings passed away in 2007, but her memory and drive lives on. A special thanks to those who have come before us and continue to set an example of how we should continue to fight for our rights...


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We need that kind of presence again. We need to be protesting, carrying pictures of our dead. We need to stop begging for crumbs from the table and demand and assert our absolute and total equality as citizens.

Our leadership by and large will not and has not done this; they are preoccupied with dinners and lobbying.

Our passivity and relative silence from the radical arena over the last few years has given the Right the perception that we are docile, weak and victims to be kicked whenever they need.

We need to change that perception and it is through protests like Waymon's that this will happen.

And...if we count the transgendered amongst our dead, then we suure as hell better include them we we demand protections.

We to need to say, now, repeatedly and loudly, no more incrementalism. We have enough dead.

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I had the honor to meet Barbara Gittings when she was a keynote speaker at a G/L conference at Indiana University in the early 1970's. In fact, I not only got to meet her --- I got to sit around the after-breakfast table one morning with her as she smoked her pipe. (Just tobacco, folks!)

In 1965 I was ten or eleven, and still wondering if my interest in the other boys was just a passing thing, or whether I was "queer" (definitely a bad term in 1965). My being able to find news stories in the public library about protests such as the one you mention, Waymon, helped me get over the "I must be the only one in the world" idea.

Thanks, Waymon, for giving Barbara Gittings the praise and remembrance she deserves. What a wonderful and courageous person she was!

The policies she was protesting was caused by the closet that gays were forced into in the past. It was felt that, if you were homosexual, you were more open to being blackmailed due to the threat of revelation of your sexuality. This was especially true in the intelligence services, and is also one of the reasons, among many, that the military will trot out to deny gays the ability to serve in the military.

Which came first, the closet or the gay?

(sorry in a stupid joke sort of mood.)

One of the reasons that the trans community generally uses protests and vigils, though we are small in number compared to the rest of the community, is because we are for the most part, the most visible and the least able to hide in the closet.

Thanks for sharing this picture, Waymon.

Michael Bedwell | March 17, 2008 3:58 AM

That photo of Barbara and the other demonstrators was taken by her partner of 46 years Kay Tobin Lahusen. Many of the historical photographs from that era and later that we see were taken by Kay. But she didn’t just document the movement. As one of the founding members of the iconic Gay Activists Alliance Kay once scared the shit out of the US Ambassador to the United Nations when she pounded furiously on the roof of his limo during a demonstration against something he’d said. Color pictures from the White House demonstration above and other memorabilia from the Frank Kameny collection can be seen at:

http://www.kamenypapers.org/memorabilia.htm

It was my thrill to meet Barbara at the same time Allen Lopp did. She had a marvelous speaking voice, natural grace, and quiet charisma that simultaneously seduced one into agreeing with her and a dignity and self-confidence that wordlessly challenged anyone to disagree with her. The next and last time I saw her was at Equality Forum in Philadelphia in 2005, roughly a year and a half before she passed. Her last political act was when she and Kay came out to the other residents of their assisted living facility in its newsletter.

A lifetime of achievements included founding the New York City chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis in 1958; editing DOB’s magazine “The Ladder” starting in 1963 [with photos by Kay]; working with Kameny as lay counsels for gays fighting for Pentagon security clearances beginning in 1967; being one of the first two out lesbians to appear on a national TV talk show [“The Phil Donahue Show” in 1970 with Lilli Vincenz who participated in many of the same pre-Stonewall demonstrations including the one pictured above]; publishing the same year the first bibliography of positive LGBT books and pamphlets [it had less than 40 items] and eventually revolutionizing the attitude of the American Library Association toward both gay-positive publications and gay people themselves; helping force the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 1973; and helping found what is now the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force.

If we’d had 10 more Barbara Gittings and 10 more Frank Kamenys [or HRC hadn’t dwarfed every other gay political group and stopped listening to the original two] we would not still be fighting for first class citizenship forty-three years after the photo above was taken.

From Frank’s eulogy:

“[W]ith an ineffable sense of loss, I say ‘Goodbye Barbara. Goodbye. Goodbye. Goodbye’. We are all the less for her departure. I miss her more than I can ever say, but will always remember her fondly as one of the most important players in my gay activist life and in the incredible progress of the gay community over the past half century. Goodbye Barbara. You won't be forgotten.”

Barbara Gittings & Chip Arndt, Equality Forum, 2005:

http://i219.photobucket.com/albums/cc80/Oz94114/BarbaraGittingsChipArndt.jpg?t=1205739983


We owe her more than we can ever repay. Only when we have full equality will she be vindicated.