BARBARA GITTINGS has been in the Gay Movement
since 1958. A long time, isn't it? A time when homosexuality was not spoken of in polite company. A time
when our society was being destroyed by puritans. You
and I remember what it was like in Texas a few years
ago; well, think about 1958. It took courage and more
guts than most of us have today to stand up for Gay
Rights in 1958. But Barbara had the courage and the
guts, not to mention the intelligence, to lay a path which
began the movement we now have. If our movement
had had a Declaration of Independence, one of the signatures would have been: Barbara Brooks Gittings.
Ms. Gittings was born in 1932 to a very devout Catholic family. In her primary and secondary education, she
did very well. She entered Northwestern and then problems began. That was the year Barbara had to come to
terms with her own homosexuality.
Barbara began ignoring her courses and spent many
hours in the libraries at Northwestern and in Chicago.
"I went to texts on abnormal psychology, to encyclopedias, to medical books, to every book dealing with
sex, as well as to whatever I could find under card catalog headings like 'sexual perversion.' I was so anxious to
get to the material on homosexuality, I didn't even mind
looking in categories like 'pervision' and 'abnormal.'
And I half believed them anyway.
"But everything I found was so alien, so remote. It
didn't give me any sense of myself or what my life and
expereince could be. It was mostly clinical-sounding
disturbance, pathology, arrested development - and it
was mostly about men."
Barbara flunked out of Northwestern at the end of her
It was difficult for Barbara to move into the gay world
she longed for. "On weekends, dressed as a boy, I'd
hitch rides with truckers up Route 1 to New York City
to go to the gay bars. At first I didn't know of any gay
bars in Philadelphia. I had a lot of trouble getting plugged into the gay community. 1 spent agonized years trying to find a comfortable social life, and the bars were
the only place I had to start looking. Since I didn't like
to drink anyway, I'd hold a glass of ice water and pretend it was gin on the rocks. I'd get into conversation
with other women but I'd usually find we didn't really
have any common interests; we just happened both to be
gay. I just didn't run into any lesbians who shared my
interests in books and hostel trips and baroque music.
They all seemed to groove on Peggy Lee and Frank Sinatra and nothing older! It was only later, in other settings,
that 1 found gay people I was really congenial with. In
those days I felt there was no real place for me in the
straight culture, but the gay bar culture wasn't the place
for me either. It was a painful and confusing time in my
"I wore drag because I thought that was a way to show
I was gay. It's changed now, but in the early 50's there
were basically two types of women in the gay bars, the
so-called butch ones in short hair and plain masculine attire and the so-called femme ones in dresses and high
heels and makeup. I knew high heels and makeup
weren't my personal style, so I thought, well, I must be
the other kind! And I dressed accordingly. What a waste
of time and energy! I was really a mixed-up kid.
"The only other models, the only other images of
homosexual people I had to look to were in the books,
and there, too, much was made of differentiating both
lesbians and male homosexuals into masculine and feminine types. This differentiating is disappearing very fast
today, not only for gays but for straights, too. Nowadays people generally feel freer to look and act whatever way they feel most comfortable , and they don't
so readily follow set patterns.
"It was risky as well as inappropriate for me to be in
drag. One night in Philadelphia, I left a mixed bar with a
male gay acquaintance, and outside there were two marines who put on brass knuckles and attacked my friend.
'We'd beat you up, too, sonny, if you weren't wearing
glasses,* one told me. When they left, I took my companion to the hospital where he had thirteen stitches put
in his face."
Barbara since went on to join the Gay Movement. She
formed the New York chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis
and was editor of The Ladder for several years. While editor, Barbara published such prophetic gems as "The Invisible Woman" in 1965, whose author pointed out that
the lesbian is a dangerous subversive rebelling against the
deepest injustices of our social order. Her existence
brings up questions so uncomfortable that most people
can't even bear to admit her existence. ... To the frail
male ego, the thought of a woman who has her own identity, instead of getting it from her relationship with a
man, is so destructive it's unimaginable and must be ignored out of existence. ... The modem woman hasyet
to emerge as a human being on her own rather than as
somebody's wife and mother. The lesbian is that anomaly, a free woman, legislated out of existence by
3,000 years of patriarchal culture.. ..
Bold words for that time! And Barbara is bold, and
a qualified leader. She presently is on the Board of
Directors of the National Gay Task Force and serves as
coordinator of the American Library Association's Task
Force on Gay Liberation.
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By Allen Reid
Anyone who thinks that Gays are not
better off in this state and this country
than they were ten years ago either hasn't
been around very long or else has had
head planted firmly in the sand. We've
come a long way, Baby!
Ten years ago the mere appearance of a
man in blue in or near any of the gay bars
was enough to clear the entire area within
a few minutes. Very few of us even entertained the thought of telling anyone "outside" about our "gaity." By and large we
were a people ashamed and fearful who
didn't have enough faith or pride in ourselves and our identity as Gay People to
even think about doing anything serious
to better our situation. We didn't believe
in ourselves. . . how could we expect anyone else to believe in us?
Today, we can effectively challenge oppressive laws, we can successfully fight
job discrimination, we can win the right
to have custody of our children, we can
know that by nature we are neither sick
nor sinful. We can even run for public office and have a possibility of being taken
seriously .. . and in some cases even win
the election - not as make-believe heterosexuals, but honestly as ourselves, as human beings.
In our struggle for human dignity and
legal equality, we now have the support
of major religious denominations, powerful women's groups, the legal profession, the American Psychiatric Association and numerous other influential
groups across the nation.
And not one of you reading this column
has escaped being affected by all that has
transpired around you. You, who have
done nothing but enjoy the "gay" side of
our lifestyle, will reap the benefits for
years to come of the so-called Gay Movement.
The vote by the American Psychiatric
Association reversing its position on homosexuality didn't come out ofthe goodness of their hearts. That decision came
only because a small group of dedicated
(even fanatical) women and men spent
years of their lives working to educate the
leadership of the APA to the truth.
Sodomy laws have been stricken from
the books in state after state; cross-dressing ordinances have been dropped; equal
protection laws for housing and employment and housing have been passed in
city after city. Why? Not because the
public and law makers have suddenly
come to love us ... but only because a
few dedicated individuals and groups have
spent vast sums of their own energy, time
and money because they cared not only
about their own situation, but about your
situation and the situation of generations
of Gay men and women to come.
Why have you turned your back on
your Gay Brothers and Sisters and been
content to idly sit, and if you take notice
at all, only criticize the methods, downgrade the results, question the motives
and complain about how your own "security" has been jeopardized by the openness that has been created.
Nothing changes without producing
waves ... but 1 would willingly loose a
hundred jobs and have a thousand
pseudo-friends turn their backs on me,
just for a glimmer of a promise of a
brighter day for us all.
That day ]s coming - but it could come
so much sooner, so much easier, if you
could somehow begin to see yourself as
a part of us . .. and no longer as just
someone who is visiting here for his or
her own pleasure.
MALE RAPE LAWS PASSED
Lancing, Michigan - RecenUy enacted
revision of Michigan's rape law redefines
rape as "sexual assault " and does not
differentiate between men and women.
The new law can now replace the current
sodomy statute in cases of males raping
males and may pave the way for eventual
repeal of the sodomy law in Michigan. It
is uncertain what effect, if any, the new
law will have on prevention of the forcible rape of homosexuals by other prison
Boston - Gov. Frances Sargent has signed
a bill which allows males to charge they
were the victims of rape. Under the new
law, males or females can charge assailants
with forcible anal or oral rape. Previously
rape statutes applied only to females attacked by males and forced to participate
in sexual acts in the conventional "missionary" position. The Massachusetts Bar
Association feels that the bill (sponsored
by NOW and supported by the Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts) will lead to
the repeal of the state's centuries-old sexual conduct statutes.
THAT'S ENTERT \1\ME\ T bv
Jay Alexander will resume next