Kay Tobin Lahusen, Gay Rights Activist and Photographer, Dies at 91


Kay Tobin Lahusen, a outstanding homosexual rights activist whose images documented the motion’s earliest days and depicted lesbians who had been out after they had been just about absent from common tradition, died on Wednesday in West Chester, Pa. She was 91.

Her loss of life in a hospital, was confirmed by Malcolm Lazin, a longtime buddy and the manager director of the Equality Forum, an L.G.B.T.Q. civil rights group.

Ms. Lahusen and her longtime accomplice, Barbara Gittings, had been at the forefront of the lesbian rights motion, decided to make whom they beloved a supply of satisfaction fairly than disgrace.

They had been early members of the Daughters of Bilitis, the primary nationwide lesbian group, and quickly spoke out about their sexuality and their calls for for equality at a time when homosexual rights teams had been much less vocal. In the 1960s, they helped arrange protests at a National Council of Churches assembly, the Pentagon and the White House effectively earlier than the Stonewall uprising in Greenwich Village in 1969, a pivotal occasion for the homosexual rights motion.

They helped lesbians notice that they weren’t alone by producing The Ladder, a e-newsletter printed by the Daughters that was the primary nationally distributed lesbian journal within the United States.

Ms. Gittings was The Ladder’s editor, and Ms. Lahusen turned an necessary contributor, writing beneath the surname Tobin, which she had picked out of the telephone guide, she mentioned, as a result of it was simple to pronounce, not like Lahusen (pronounced la-HOOZ-en). She additionally photographed lots of the earliest homosexual rights protests, offering necessary documentation of a interval when many homosexual individuals selected to stay within the closet.

“Occasionally somebody would bring a camera to a picket, but I was the only one who went at it in a sustained way,” Ms. Lahusen mentioned in an interview for this obituary in 2019.

Some of her protest images appeared in The Ladder’s inside pages; with few homosexual individuals wanting their faces to seem in {a magazine}, not to mention on the quilt, the journal’s covers got over to illustrations. “I said, ‘What we really need are some live lesbians,’ and we couldn’t find any,” Ms. Lahusen mentioned.

By the mid-1960s, nonetheless, Ms. Lahusen had persuaded some ladies to pose for canopy portraits, amongst them Ernestine Eckstein, an African American lesbian activist who picketed the White House for homosexual rights in 1965, and Lilli Vincenz, who was discharged from the Women’s Army Corps after she was outed.

In a 1993 interview with Outhistory.org, Ms. Lahusen described her objective then as “taking our minority out from under wraps, and what you might call the normalization of gay.”

As the 1960s wore on, Ms. Lahusen and Ms. Gittings got here to imagine that the Daughters of Bilitis’ method was too conciliatory, that it was extra targeted on signaling respectability than preventing for equal rights. “It was all aimed at reforming laggard lesbians,” she mentioned.

They started to work outdoors the group, discovering frequent trigger with homosexual rights activists like Franklin Kameny.

Ms. Lahusen helped Mr. Kameny and Ms. Gittings foyer the American Psychiatric Association to take away homosexuality from its record of psychological sicknesses, partly by persuading a working towards psychiatrist to testify about being homosexual at the group’s nationwide conference in Dallas in 1972. The psychiatrist, Dr. John E. Fryer, addressed the affiliation beneath the identify Dr. H. Anonymous, carrying a masks and a wig in order that he wouldn’t face skilled repercussions.

Ms. Lahusen photographed him, totally costumed, with Ms. Gittings and Mr. Kameny. The subsequent 12 months the affiliation eliminated homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders.

Ms. Lahusen’s images provide a uncommon visible file of the homosexual rights motion’s earliest days. Many of them are actually within the New York Public Library’s archive and had been a serious a part of the 2019 exhibition “Love & Resistance: Stonewall 50,” which celebrated the 50th anniversary of the rebellion.

Marcia M. Gallo, a social motion historian and the writer of “Different Daughters: A History of the Daughters of Bilitis and the Rise of the Lesbian Rights Movement” (2006), described Ms. Lahusen in an interview as “one of the key foundational organizers and chroniclers of the L.G.B.T.Q. movement from the ’60s on.”

Ms. Gallo mentioned that Ms. Lahusen had been keen to talk about the earliest days of the motion, and that she and Ms. Gittings had organized a gay lunch-table group at the care facility the place they lived in Kennett Square, Pa.

“She was organizing into her 90s,” Ms. Gallo mentioned.

Katherine Lahusen was born on Jan. 5, 1930, in Cincinnati. She was adopted quickly afterward by her grandparents George and Katherine (Walker) Lahusen. Her grandfather offered cable for a metal firm; her grandmother was a homemaker.

Katherine first realized that she was drawn to ladies when she was barely a teen, growing crushes on actresses like Katharine Hepburn. It was the 1940s, and many Americans considered homosexual individuals as deviants. But Ms. Lahusen refused to internalize society’s prejudices.

“I decided that I was right and the world was wrong and that there couldn’t be anything wrong with this kind of love,” she was quoted as saying in “Different Daughters.”

She went to a personal elementary faculty and graduated from Withrow High School in Cincinnati in 1948. She adopted a girlfriend to Ohio State University, the place she majored in English and deliberate to change into a instructor.

Ms. Lahusen graduated in 1952 and moved in together with her girlfriend. But the girlfriend quickly had second ideas about their relationship.

“She believed that we couldn’t have a good life together,” Ms. Lahusen mentioned. “She wanted to have a white picket fence and a hubby, and she wanted to have children.”

Ms. Lahusen moved to Boston within the mid-1950s and took a job there as a researcher at The Christian Science Monitor whereas struggling to discover a companion. She discovered of the psychiatrist Richard C. Robertiello, who had written the guide “Voyage From Lesbos: The Psychoanalysis of a Female Homosexual” (1959).

“I thought, ‘I don’t want to be cured, but I do want to find out how to meet other lesbians,’” Ms. Lahusen recalled in 2019. “I had the impression there were others in Paris, but I didn’t know any locally.”

She made an appointment with Dr. Robertiello, who confirmed her a replica of The Ladder. She wrote to the publication and in time met Ms. Gittings, who had based the New York chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis in 1958.

Ms. Gittings turned her accomplice, and they lived collectively for many years in Philadelphia, the place an house they shared early on was honored with a historic marker in 2016.

Ms. Gittings and Ms. Lahusen supported their activism by working completely different jobs, Ms. Lahusen as a waitress and in a music retailer. In 1972 she and Randy Wicker printed “The Gay Crusaders,” one of many first collections of interviews with outstanding homosexual rights figures.

Ms. Gittings died in 2007, earlier than the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2015.

[Read Ms. Gittings’s obituary in The Times]

No instant members of the family survive.

Ms. Lahusen mentioned she was overjoyed by how far homosexual rights had come, however she cautioned younger activists in opposition to complacency.

“I think some of these advances, as wonderful as they are, are being taken for granted, even now,” she mentioned. “They need to be codified into law.”



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