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Kay Tobin Lahusen
(1930 - living) U.S.A.


Activist, writer, photographer


Katherine Lahusen was born to George H. and Katherine W. Lahusen, and brought up in Cincinnati, Ohio. She developed her interest in photography as a child. She discovered while in college that she had romantic feelings for a woman. In 1948, the summer after Kay graduated from Withrow High School in Cincinnati, she met Jane, a girl who had gone to the same school. She fell in love with her and Jane fell in love with Kay. Jane had had a little experience, so they very quickly developed a physical relationship. For a year Kay thought it was the world's greatest friendship.

After a year together Kay finally faced the fact that this was more than friendship. This was desire and sex and lust and love, just like straight people feel. She had a relationship with her for six years, but after the woman left "in order to marry and have a normal life", Lahusen was devastated by the loss.

After the breakup with Jane, Kay moved to Boston and went to work for the Christian Science Monitor. Several years would pass before she put the relationship behind her and began searching for other women like herself. It was a search that would lead her into an important role in the gay civil rights effort and in 1961 into a lifelong relationship with Barbara Gittings. Barbara and Kay met at a gathering of the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB), the lesbian rights organization, in Rhode Island; they fell in love and Lahusen moved from Boston to Philadelphia to be with Gittings. In 1963, Gittings became the editor of DOB's national newsletter, The Ladder , and the couple took the publication in radical new directions.

Kay Tobin Lahusen participates in the Fifth Annual Reminder, Independence Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 4, 1969
Photo by Nancy Tucker

Between 1965 and 1969, Gittings and Lahusen were present for virtually all of the earliest gay rights demonstrations to take place in the U.S.; without Lahusen, photographs of the events may never have existed. In 1970, Lahusen (who at some point adopted the surname "Tobin," which she picked out of the phonebook as easier to pronounce) helped form the Gay Activists Alliance and she co-wrote "The Gay Crusaders" in 1972.

Kay Lahusen, a photojournalist and co-author of "The Gay Crusaders," captured images of the earliest protests in what would become the gay rights movement. Without her work, evidence of significant moments in queer history may never have existed. Together, Gittings and Lahusen were on the front lines of the fight for equality for nearly fifty years.

Most notably, Lahusen insisted on replacing the drawings featured on "The Ladder's" covers with real lesbians. For over a year, she was unable to find a woman willing to pose for a full-face portrait (i.e., unadorned, looking directly at the camera); the fear was understandable, but so too was Lahusen's frustration. "If you go around as if you don't dare show your face," she said, "it sends forth a terrible message."

In January 1966, however, Lahusen's portrait of Lilli Vincenz smiling directly into the camera made history when it appeared on "The Ladder's" cover.

Lahusen & Gittings
Lahusen & Gittings, 1995. Photo by Ray Harriman

Barbara and Kay were together until Gittings' death in 2007. They were among the founding parents of the American gay rights movement. Barbara Gittings served as head of the New York chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis, led the efforts to remove homosexuality from the American Psychiatric Association's list of mental disorders, and organized the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

In 2007, all of Lahusen's photos and writings and Gittings' papers and writings were donated to the New York Public Library. Lahusen and Gittings were together for 46 years when Gittings died of breast cancer on February 18, 2007, aged 74; they had been together for forty-six years. Lahusen was working on collecting her photographs for a photography scrapbook on the history of the gay rights movement when Gittings' illness put the plans on hold. Lahusen currently resides in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania in an assisted living facility.

In the 1980s Lahusen became involved in real estate, and placed ads in gay papers. She also organized agents to get them to march in New York City's Gay Pride Parade. More recently, her photographs have been featured in exhibits at The William Way Community Center in Philadelphia and the Wilmington Institute Library in Delaware.


Source: http://lgbt-history-archive.tumblr.com/ et alii

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