Often considered to be at the forefront of the LGBTQ Rights Movement, New York City is home to many influential people and riots that paved the way for the rights the community has today. Most notably, it was the location of the Stonewall Riots, a pivotal series of violent riots in 1969.
During Pride Month, and every month, it’s important to honor the people that fought so hard for equality by challenging their peers, protesting, creating some of the first LGBTQ organizations, and providing people in the community with deep culture and history. A list of all the important LGBTQ figures who made an impact would be endless, but here are just of the 10 influential figures in New York City’s LGBTQ Rights Movement.
10. Barbara Gittings
Barbara Gettings and Randy Wicker picketing in 1966. Photograph by Kay Tobin via NYPL
Barbara Gittings, often noted as the “Mother of the LGBT Civil Rights Movement,” was born in Austria in 1932. Her father was a U.S. Diplomat, but the family went back to the United States during the beginning of World War II. In school, Gittings dealt with harassment based on her sexual orientation before she even figured it out herself. She was rejected from opportunities because of her “deviant character” and lost friends when rumors of her being a lesbian spread around college. Gittings was a devout Catholic and tried to get “cured” through psychiatry as she couldn’t afford and priests. When she began exploring her sexuality and had come to accept it, she struggled to fit in with the two categories that most lesbians fell into at the time: butch and femme, and she often wore men’s clothing to try to fit in.
Despite living in Philadelphia, Gittings began the New York City chapter of the Daughter’s of Bilitis, the first Lesbian rights organization, which was created in 1955 by Phyllis Lion and Del Martin who simply wanted a space where they could dance together; at the time, this was illegal. Barbara Gittings took part in some of the first gay rights protests in New York City, kicking off the series of LGBTQ protests that would follow years later.
Gittings became the editor of the Daughter’s of Bilitis magazine, The Ladder, from 1963 to 1966. She believed that it was a way she could shape minds and make a difference in the Lesbian Community. Her activism didn’t stop there, she became involved with other organizations like the East Coast Homophile Organizations and the Homophile Action League, and the Task Force on Gay Liberation. Along with Richard Isay, she strove to remove homosexuality from the list of mental disorders to prevent the widespread issue of conversion therapy.
Barbara Gittings’ impact on the LGBTQ Community, whom she referred to as “my people,” is extensive as she was featured in a CBS documentary, Gay Pioneers. Philadelphia also created a block called “Barbara Gettings Way,” and The Free Library of Philadelphia created the Gittings Collection of LGBTQ materials in 2001.