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Barbara Gittings Collection
Barbara Gittings
Barbara Gittings

Founded in 2001, the Gittings Collection of gay and lesbian materials is named in honor of Barbara Gittings, an early pioneer in the fight for gay and lesbian civil rights.  Gittings’ commitment to libraries was galvanized when, as a teenager, she was unable to find any books about gay people at her local library.  She was among those who demonstrated for the civil rights of the gay community during the mid-1960s at the Pentagon, the White House, and Philadelphia’s own Independence Hall.  Although not a librarian herself, she headed the Gay and Lesbian Task Force of the American Library Association for 15 years and edited its Gay Bibliography and other gay reading lists.  Barbara lived much of her adult life in Philadelphia, and it is fitting that this collection, housed within blocks of the site of her early civil rights demonstrations, should be named in her honor.

The Gittings Collection, the second largest (after San Francisco Public Library) gay and lesbian collection in a public library, takes up an entire wall near the front entrance of Independence Branch and features over 1500 items including books, music, DVDs, audiobooks, and periodicals. 

Barbara Gittings
Barbara Gittings
Pioneer gay rights activist Barbara Gittings at the first homosexual rights demonstration, Philadelphia, July 4, 1965. (Photo credit: Kay Tobin Lahusen)

Barbara Gittings, champion of human decency and dignity, has been called the Rosa Parks of Philadelphia gay rights activism. Her involvement began in the Fifties, when she founded the New York chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis, the nation’s first lesbian organization. From 1963-1966, she edited the organization’s lesbian journal, The Ladder, updating the magazine’s illustration format to photograpy in order to put a human face to lesbianism. She famously lead a group of gay rights activists to picket in front  of Independence Hall every July 4th from 1965-1969 to remind people that the human rights documented in the Declaration of Independence did not yet extend to the gay community. These annual protests laid the groundwork for New York’s infamous Stonewall rebellion in 1969. Although Gittings was not a librarian, she served as head of the American Library Association’s Gay Task Force and broke barriers by setting up a gay kissing booth at the 1971 Dallas ALA convention. She wrote the history of this task force—the first gay caucus in a professional organization—entitled Gays in Library Land, in addition to editing the association’s gay bibliography. Gittings was eventually awarded an honorary lifetime membership in the ALA in 2003. In 1973, her campaign to convince the American Psychiatric Association to drop homosexuality as a category of mental illness was a success. The Free Library of Philadelphia’s Gay and Lesbian Collection was named in Gittings’ honor. She died at the age of 75, leaving behind her life partner Kay Tobin Lahusen, and a legacy as one of the city’s bravest heroes.