Barbara Gittings (1932-2007), Interviewed February 2, 1993

Barbara Gittings and Kay Lahusen

Barbara Gittings and Kay Lahusen. Photo: Philadelphia Gay News, November 2012.

by Marc Stein. Copyright © Marc Stein 2009. All rights reserved.


I interviewed Barbara Gittings (and her partner Kay Lahusen, who mostly used the name Kay "Tobin" in the gay and lesbian movement) at my home in South Philadelphia in February 1993. I ordinarily interviewed people in their homes, but Gittings and Lahusen preferred to come to my house. I later did a separate interview with Lahusen (available here). I wanted to interview both of them because they were well known, locally and nationally, as gay and lesbian movement leaders who had been active since the 1950s and 1960s. Before interviewing them I had heard Gittings speak at public events in Philadelphia and I think I had met them at the Lesbian and Gay Library/Archives of Philadelphia, which was located in the William Way Community Center. Before conducting this interview, I transcribed a public presentation on local gay and lesbian history that Gittings and Ada Bello had done in 1983 and a videotaped interview that Tommi Avicolli Mecca had done with Gittings in 1984; I hope to make transcripts of these available in the future. I also read many previously published interviews with Gittings, some of which are referenced below.

Because there were so many previously published interviews with Gittings and because I thought she had developed rather fixed ways of telling her stories, which is common with people who regularly speak publicly about their lives, I decided to adjust my usual interviewing techniques. In essence, my goal was to disrupt her patterned ways of telling her stories in an effort to provoke new memories, new reflections, and new interpretations. To do this, I brought with me a set of documents I had found in various archives that challenged, in ways big and small, the stories she had told others. I read or summarized these documents for Gittings and asked for her comments and responses. Because of the unusual nature of this process, I recommend that readers consult other interviews with Gittings and use those interviews in combination with mine.

Gittings provided me with the following biographical information:

Date of Birth: 31 July 1932

Place of Birth: Vienna, Austria

Place of Mother's Birth: New Albany, Indiana

Mother's Occupation: Housewife

Place of Father's Birth: Baltimore, Maryland

Father's Occupation: Diplomatic Service

Race/Ethnicity: White/English/Irish/Scottish

Religious Background: Catholic

Class Background: Upper Middle Class

Residential History

1932-33: Vienna

1933-49: Tryon, North Carolina; Annapolis, Maryland; Montreal, Canada; Wilmington, Delaware

1949-50: Evanston, Illinois

1950-51: Wilmington, Delaware

1951-1972: Philadelphia (708 Spruce St., 20th and Spruce, 241 S. 21st St.)

1972-80: Philadelphia (4301 Spruce St.)

1980-Present: Philadelphia (4832 Osage St.) 

Gittings died in Wilmington, Delaware, on 18 February 2007. 

For other interviews with Gittings, see Eric Marcus, Making History: The Struggle for Gay and Lesbian Equal Rights, 1945-1990 (New York: HarperCollins, 1992), 106-126; Kay Tobin and Randy Wicker, The Gay Crusaders (New York: Paperback Library, 1972), 205-224; Jonathan Ned Katz, Gay American History (New York: Crowell, 1976), 420-433; Tommi Avicolli, "Barbara Gittings," Advocate, 9 July 1981, 24-27; Troy Perry and Thomas L. P. Swicegood, Profiles in Gay and Lesbian Courage (New York: St. Martin's, 1991), 153-178; Vern L. Bullough, ed., Before Stonewall: Activists for Gay and Lesbian Rights in Historical Context (Binghamton: Harrington Park, 2002); Paul D. Cain, Leading the Parade: Conversations with America's Most Influential Lesbians and Gay Men (Lanham: Scarecrow, 2002).

Interview Transcript

Marc Stein Interview with Barbara Gittings (and Kay Lahusen), 2 February 1993. Transcribed by Abby M. Schrader, Tracy Nathan, and Marc Stein.

MS: The first set of questions that I have cover your first few years in Philadelphia, from when you ran away from home, as you've described it elsewhere, in 1951, but before you got in touch with the movement in '56. And I know that you've talked a lot about how important books were to you at that time, but I wonder if during those five years you had any other connections with the lesbian and gay community. I know you've also talked about travelling to New York during those years.

BG: There wasn't any easy way to find other gay people. I really needed to get plugged in somehow to the community, but I really didn't know how to do it. I did have to get myself a job, because I needed some income, and I stabilized myself also by joining a choral group. I'm not sure which the first one was. I think it was the church choir, would you believe? Because music has always been very important to me and it kept me on an even keel. When you have that responsibility of going every week to rehearsals and to occasional concerts, you don't go drifting off.

MS: Right. Do you remember any of the first few lesbians or gay men you met in town?

BG: I did not meet any, no. Somehow I was unable to find gay groups, that is, social groups of gays, and gay bars in Philadelphia. I first went to New York to find them.

MS: And how did you find them in New York?

BG: Because I suppose I had read about them somewhere. And I sort of drifted around in the Village, going to places that I had heard about. And I did finally land in a couple of lesbian bars. Now you must understand: I don't like bars. I wasn't that much of a drinker. I didn't like the smell of bars. I don't like the atmosphere much. It wasn't my scene. It wasn't for me. But I knew that this was the only way that I had at the time to find other gay people, so I kept on going and going. And I would get a glass of ice water and pretend it was something else and just wander around for the evening, trying to make some friends.

KL: Hitch-hiked.

BG: Well I hitch-hiked to New York. I dressed as a boy and hitch-hiked up the road. I think the turnpike, the New Jersey Turnpike, had not been built at the time.

MS: So Route 1 maybe?

BG: Yeah, Route 1. And I would hitch a ride with truckers. And I have very little recall of that. Except that I had no unpleasant incidents. That I would surely have remembered, yes. But I had no bad incidents and I did make my way to New York.

MS: Do you think, partly, it was safer for you to be going out in a different city than the one that you were living in?

BG: I hadn't thought of it that way. Why would you go a hundred miles away if you can find it in your backyard? It wasn't that I was afraid so much of anyone seeing me go. I just didn't know where to go. But I think I finally found out about gay bars in Philadelphia after I had been to some in New York.

MS: Do you remember the first one that you walked into?

BG: Not the very first, no, I don't remember the first one I walked into. It was not a significant moment for me. Or at least it fell through the memory hole.

MS: What about any of the first few that you went to in those years?

BG: They weren't particularly attractive places.

MS: Were most of the bars in Philly and New York just women?

BG: No. There was, I think, one lesbian bar. I didn't find out about it right away. I did go to one bar that was a kind of mixed place, men and women. It wasn't entirely gay, as I recall. I think there were some straight people there. And they had entertainment. They had people at the piano and singing. I was dressed as a boy. I was called Sonny. And I went to this place quite a lot. Now somewhere along the line, I did begin to acquire some friends that I could see outside the bars. And I remember in particular a couple of gay men that I befriended. They befriended me, I befriended them. And they were very, very nice. And I sort of fell in step with them and went around with them. I guess I felt very safe with them and I felt that I wouldn't get into any trouble with them, because they were so conventional. One of them worked as a court stenographer and I don't remember what the other one did, but it was also a very traditional sort of job. And they gave Tupperware parties. And they had a piano and an organ at home, because they were both very musical. So we'd talk music. I guess one reason I was friends with them was that I had something in common with them other than being gay.

MS: Right.

BG: The music. Now they weren't baroque freaks like me, but still it was something. And I feel as though I'm trying to get out of a hole and can't get any kind of hand-holds and you take whatever you can find.

MS: Did they live in Center City? Do you recall?

BG: No, they lived, I think, in Upper Darby.

MS: So you would travel.

BG: I mean where else would you have room to have an organ and a piano in your apartment?

MS: I wondered. And you mentioned in one interview a story with a man who went by the name Pinky?

BG: Mmhmm.

MS: He wasn't one of those two men, was he?

BG: Pinky, as I recall, was a teacher, a schoolteacher, and he and I and I think someone else, possibly two other people, were out one night at this one gay bar that I remember that was a mixed bar, men and women, but mostly men. Pinky got to talking with a couple of young men who were in the bar. The next thing I know, we're outside and they bring out the brass knuckles and are cutting him up. And they said to me, "We won't bother you, Sonny, because you wear glasses."

MS: So they thought you were a boy?

BG: I don't know whether they really thought I was a boy and were just letting me go because I looked so young and was wearing glasses or whether they realized that this was a woman in drag.

KL: Were they marines?

BG: I think they were marines out of uniform.

MS: That's interesting given what just happened.

BG: And they had brought brass knuckles. And they cut up his face and I had to stand there and watch. I mean what could I do? I was in no position to do anything except to wait for them to go away and then to help him to the hospital. And we went to Jefferson's Emergency Room and I understand he had to have thirteen stitches in his nose. They completely opened up his nostril.

MS: Did the hospital treat him fairly, do you think?

BG: As far as I can tell, yes. I don't remember what story we told them, except that some muggers set upon him. That wasn't the word we used then. We didn't tell them the location of the incident. But it was obvious that someone had set upon him.

MS: And you probably never reported it to the police?

BG: He wouldn't do it. I think I urged him to, but he wouldn't do it. And my thought was not that this is an injustice because we are gay, but simply that this is something you should report. But he didn't want to do it. I guess he didn't want to get involved in telling them where it had happened and why he was there.

MS: Right.

BG: Especially if I'm correct that he was a teacher.

MS: Sure. Do you recall, in those years, what the feeling was between lesbians and gay men?

BG: I didn't know any lesbians. Or practically none.

MS: So it was really gay men that you were socializing with?

BG: Mostly gay men I was socializing with.

KL: When did you meet Jody?

BG: That was through the Mattachine Society, yes.

MS: Jody Shotwell?

BG: Yes. You see most of my friends have come through the movement. I had very few friends during those years. It was partly because I didn't have much in common with these people. Even if I met someone in a gay bar, what could we talk about? What is there beyond the bar, beyond the fact that we're gay?

MS: Hasn't changed.

BG: No.

MS: And do you recall ever having people over to your apartments?

BG: No. I only had the room.

MS: You just had a room.

BG: I had this room and either there was a house rule that you couldn't bring visitors or they were strongly discouraged or something. And no, I did not bring people to the room.

MS: I know you've talked about first staying with a friend who was a student at Temple University.

BG: Yes.

MS: Was that a man or a woman?

BG: That was a woman.

MS: And was she a lesbian?

BG: Yes. She was a lesbian.

MS: She was. And do you recall how you had met her?

BG: Through the woman that I had had my first relationship with, which was back in Wilmington, Delaware. I had come back from college in disgrace because I had flunked academically.

MS: Right.

BG: And I was still feeling very strongly the need to find out what lay ahead of me, what was my life going to be like. So I spent a lot of time in the library there in Wilmington. And also I took a night school course, a university night school course, in guess what, abnormal psychology. And in the class was this young woman who had been in high school with me, but a class ahead of me in high school. And we started exchanging notes and I think she gave me a ride home. She had a car. I didn't. And things developed from there. So eventually we had a sexual relationship. It was very unsatisfactory. It didn't work out. So we just parted. But through her I met this other person. I guess for that time you would call her flamboyant. She was unafraid of being known to be gay. And she was a student at Temple. I have not much recall about what she was supposed to be studying. And it was to her that I went when I ran away from home. Because I thought, "Well she's in Philadelphia. Maybe she can give me something, a step up, until I can land on my own feet."

MS: So you called her up.

BG: No, you must understand: when girls of eighteen run away in 1950, there are no runaway services or support services of any kind the way they have today. You can't pick up the phone or go someplace to a halfway house or whatever. There just isn't that available. And I was scared shitless. So she did put me up in her dorm for a night or two until I was able to find quarters for myself.

MS: Did you remain friends with her?

BG: No. I didn't like her that well. I didn't have that much interest in her.

MS: But she really did provide you, at least for a couple of nights, with a haven.

BG: Yes, yes. That's right, it was a haven for a couple of nights and it got me started here in Philadelphia. I do remember one other incident that I think I haven't told others. I was so scared, not knowing what to do, that at one point I went to a psychiatric clinic and saw somebody there.

MS: Do you remember the name of the clinic?

BG: I think it was probably at 49th Street.

KL: You mean the Institute?

BG: Yeah, there must have been some kind of public clinic where people could walk in. I was sent a hefty bill for the time. It wasn't only because of the bill that I didn't go back. I just thought, "This doctor hasn't done anything for me that the news vendor on the corner couldn't have done for me if I'd gone to the news vendor on the corner instead, in terms of giving me practical help to get myself set up."

"The Homosexual in America"

Cover, Donald Webster Cory, The Homosexual in America (1951).

MS: You told the doctor that you...

BG: Well I said I'd run away from home. "I'm homosexual. I want to establish my life." I have not the faintest recall what this doctor said, but it certainly wasn't helpful and it was of no practical use whatsoever.

KL: He probably had nothing to tell you of a practical nature.

BG: Well that's true. It's true. He probably didn't have anything to offer me. That is, no runaway services or gay groups or whatever. He didn't know. But it wasn't very helpful.

MS: Well why don't we then move on to talk about your first contacts with the movement. I know that you read Donald Webster Cory's book.

BG: I went to see him in New York. I wrote to his publisher. He answered the letter and we arranged a meeting. I wanted to talk mainly about the long list of books that he had at the end of his book, because the books had interested me and I thought, "Well maybe I can do something along these lines." His list impressed me because I had no idea that there was already so much material on homosexuality in the fiction and even in the nonfiction.

MS: Right.

BG: But we talked a bit and he told me about an organization called One, Incorporated, in Los Angeles. And I was just thrilled to hear about this. And my next vacation, I must already have been at work for the architectural firm, I was entitled to a two week vacation. Yes, I had a vacation coming up. And I booked a flight to Los Angeles and I remember it because it was the first transcontinental flight of what they call the Constellations.

MS: A kind of aircraft?

BG: Yes, a kind of aircraft called the Constellation. And by mistake, I got bumped into first class. It's the only time that's ever happened. But it was my first airline flight ever and it was absolutely marvelous. Nothing has ever equaled it. Because I got bumped up to first class. I got the best food, the champagne, they had a view, they had a lounge where you could see, and they flew over the Grand Canyon. This was before accidents over the Grand Canyon caused airlines to change their flight patterns. And they actually went down so that you could see it as close as possible. And I had never seen the Grand Canyon. It was just a thrilling experience.

MS: A historic flight in more than one way.

BG: Exactly, exactly. Well I've never been bumped into first class again. I wish it would happen, but it hasn't happened.

MS: And I know the people at One then directed you to the Mattachine Society and then to the Daughters.

BG: That's right. The One, Incorporated, people directed me to the Mattachine Society and I took a flight up to San Francisco. I hadn't planned it, but I decided to do it. And they, in turn, in the Mattachine office in San Francisco, told me about the Daughters of Bilitis, which I had not heard about.

MS: Now I'm very curious about this, because I know that there were women involved with Mattachine.

BG: But more with One.

MS: And with One, O.K.

BG: With One more than with Mattachine. At that time, Mattachine, as I recall, was all male.

MS: Well then at least with One, I know that they were trying to promote some cooperation with the Daughters of Bilitis, but did they encourage you to join both or did they say, "The Daughters are taking care of the women."

BG: No, I don't remember their trying to shovel me into Daughters of Bilitis, just to let me know about it. I think they would have been glad enough to have me as a member of Mattachine, but obviously I was so raw and so uninitiated that they must have thought, "Well she needs a little bringing along before she can do much anywhere." And that was all right.

KL: Also, you wanted social contacts and some socializing and they couldn't provide that and you lived in Philadelphia and they were out there.

MS: Were you at all surprised that there were separate women's and men's organizations?

BG: No.

MS: It made sense?

KL: Didn't they have a sense of brotherliness? They wanted to help this fledgling group. Wasn't that the sense of it then?

BG: Oh yes. There were so few groups that they all were very cooperative at the outset.

MS: Certainly the newsletters suggest that there was a lot of cooperation back and forth.

BG: I won't say that there weren't tensions, for heaven's sakes. I'm sure that there were disagreements and tensions and problems. But by and large, the turf was so huge and the number of people to take it was so small that there couldn't be any serious problems.

MS: Right. It's just that one of the things that's interesting is that it's just in this same period in American history, in the fifties, when a lot of separate women's groups were arguing that they wanted to be integrated into male groups. And it's at that very moment, when the lesbian and gay groups were starting, they immediately started separating and only later, I think, started to come together. It's an interesting exception to the rule I guess.

BG: I had never been involved in the women's movement in any of its early incarnations and this kind of thing didn't interest me. I really thought of myself as a gay person. Just happened to be female, but gay, and I was interested in meeting men and women, anyone who was gay. This was my people, this was for me, this was my home, and that's where I wanted to be. So I called the Daughters of Bilitis and I spoke with either Del Martin or Phyllis Lyon. They happened to be having a meeting the following night. They invited me and I went to it. And that was just a marvelous time for me because here, for the first time, I was in the civilized setting of someone's personal living room. Not a bar.

MS: Right.

BG: With twelve or fourteen other lesbians. And I remember looking around and thinking, "Well, I've really made progress. At last I'm out of the bars." I had never really liked the bars. I only used them as a step up and I hadn't really found good friends through the bars. And here were people that I could make friends with.

MS: Now I know then you went back to Philadelphia. And since I've been combing carefully through the early issues of The Ladder, I found a few references. And I just wanted to confirm that the references were to you. So, for example, in the very first issue of The Ladder, in October '56, there's a little note that says, "With the aid of a young woman from Philadelphia who has some seventy odd titles in her personal collection of fiction on the lesbian theme, the Daughters of Bilitis are compiling a bibliography to be published in future issues of The Ladder.

BG: I have no recall of that. Isn't that funny!

MS: Well is it possible it wasn't you?

KL: It must have been.

BG: No, it must have been me. There was someone else who had a lot more than seventy titles.

KL: She was in Kansas.

BG: She was in Kansas, yes.

MS: That was Jeanette.

KL: No, that was Barbara Grier.

MS: Barbara Grier, right.

BG: I have to make a correction about dates. The year I went out to Los Angeles and then San Francisco was '56, not '55. And I say that because in 1955 I spent the summer bicycle hostelling through Europe. And obviously I couldn't have been in both places at the same time.

MS: So '56 was the trip. And then it makes sense then that you came back after that summer and in October they made this reference to you in Philadelphia.

BG: Well they must have made much of the fact that I had been trying to collect these books.

MS: Well there are a few other references, too. I know then in May of '57 you write a letter, well at least the letter is signed B.G., Philadelphia, so I assume that's you.

BG: O.K., read it. Maybe it's mine.

MS: I didn't take notes on the whole letter, but I think you're calling someone to task who had said that there was only one humorous lesbian novel, Colette's Claudine at School, and you mention a few others, Extraordinary Women and a few others. And then you say, "If I had pots of money, I would certainly commission a promising writer to do a story on lesbianism which is both humorous and unexaggerated, truthful nonsense, in effect. Why should every book and play and movie have a social or other meaning?"

KL: That sounds like you.

BG: It sounds like me, but isn't it amusing. Now that I'm the activist, I want everything to have meaning.

MS: Well, I was going to say it doesn't sound like the you that I read about later.

BG: No, it does.

KL: Barbara, you don't want everything to have meaning.

BG: No, of course not.

KL: She reads mystery stories into the night. Every night.

BG: I agree.

KL: Total nonsense. It has no meaning at all.

BG: I agree not everything should have meaning.

MS: So that was the sense you were trying to convey in that letter.

BG: That's me. That's my letter all right.

MS: O.K. And then there's one other note I found in the second year of The Ladder. This was in November of '57.

BG: '57?

MS:  Again it's signed B.G. It's called "Essay on a Lesbian."

KL: Jesus, I never heard any of this.

MS: This is quite a long piece. It must be very disconcerting to hear this.

BG: That is not likely to be mine.

MS: Is that right?

KL: Is it signed B.G.?

MS: Well, I'll tell you why I think it's you.

KL: Could that be Barbara Grier?

MS: I'll tell you why I think it's you. Well maybe it's not. It doesn't say Philadelphia. It starts off: "I'm a lesbian. In that simple statement I mean to express the most outstanding single part of my whole existence. I hasten to make clear just what I mean by that term." And then you go on to say, "We, all of us, you and I, have a wonderful kind of magic within ourselves, and our lives and our loves show it." And then later on, and this is what made me think that it was you, the essay says, "I love classical music and very good literature. In some circles, that's like having two heads. I've noticed that the people who criticize me as a person in general are the same who would be the first to lock us up for our leanings sexually."

KL: Well it wouldn't be Barbara Grier. She wasn't that much of a music fan, was she?

MS: I don't recall. Well maybe I'll copy it for you and send it to you.

KL: Yeah, we'd like to see the whole thing.

BG: I'll claim authorship if it is mine, but at the moment I don't remember it.

MS: It didn't say Philadelphia. I saw B.G. and I was looking out for references to you. And the thing that surprised me, given what I know about you later on, is that there's a line that says, "To kiss in a shadow has real advantages, even merits." The romance of the closet. In fact it says that there's something "nice about entering a room full of unknown people knowing that someone is a friend. And suddenly a casual smile from across the room confirms that feeling and you are welcome there."

BG: Somehow that doesn't sound like me. No, I don't think it's mine.

MS: Well, maybe it wasn't you.

BG: O.K., move on.

MS: Well I guess the next question that I had is that I know that the talk about establishing the DOB chapter in New York started at a Mattachine Society convention in New York. There's a reference in The Ladder to that. I wonder if you were at that convention. This must have been in 1958. Maybe you could just say in your own words how the chapter got started in New York, how that came about.

BG: I don't remember Mattachine Society coming before the chapter got started. They were there, but I don't remember getting involved in Mattachine before the chapter of Daughters of Bilitis was started in New York. I could be wrong, but I thought I was contacted directly by Del and Phyllis who said, "We know you're in Philadelphia and it's not New York, but we'd like to get an East Coast chapter started and New York seems the logical place. Do you think you could do it?" Something along those lines.

KL: Weren't you a Mattachine member, perhaps, then?

Ladder, 1966 June

Cover of The Ladder, June 1966.

BG: I don't think so, because I date my official entry into the movement from 1958, which is the time that I started the chapter. And I don't remember being a member of Mattachine Society before then.

MS: Well the reference in The Ladder says, "We're talking about establishing chapters in Los Angeles, New England, and New York. And in New York there will be a discussion about this at the Mattachine Society convention, which happens to be taking place in New York."

BG: Well I might have gone to that for the purpose of talking about the chapter.

MS: O.K.

BG: But I don't think I belonged to any of these groups. Sure I knew about One, Incorporated. Yes, I knew about Mattachine. But I don't think I had joined them officially.

MS: O.K. Well I know then you established the chapter in '58 and one of the things that comes up fairly early on in the notes that I've come across seems to have been a conflict that you were having with another Philadelphian who must have been involved with starting the chapter also. And the references are just to a woman named Joan. I assume that that was Joan Fraser.

BG: Mmhmm. Schoolteacher.

MS: Right, right. And I'm curious if you think this was just purely a personal conflict, which I certainly don't want to get into, or if there were political differences involved.

BG: I don't know. You may have some material that says what it was all about. I cannot remember what it was all about, so it must not have been very important. I doubt if it was ideological. Probably more a temperamental kind difference.

MS: Maybe this will help you recall. This was a letter that Albert de Dion sent to Del Martin.

BG: Al de Dion.

KL: And was this published in The Ladder?

MS: No, no. This was a letter that's in the New York Public Library gay collection that I've been digging around in. And this says, "Curtis and I have had a chance to talk to Joan and Barbara separately many times since they visit us at least once or twice a month. Each one is terrific in their own way, yet each has their own faults, as we outlined to you in Denver." So obviously they were talking about you. "We are attempting to do whatever we can to minimize any friction between the two girls and the group they represent." And then you wrote to Al and Curtis in '59, "I'm still on the merry-go-round with Joan. She phoned yesterday, spent 25 minutes chewing me out for blabbing about her to everyone. She was certainly indignant that I had mentioned our difficulties to you two. We also went over the same old disagreements and criticisms. And it does seem to me that Joan has no wish even to settle our differences. I can't work with her, yet I can't ignore her."

BG: Hmm. Hmm.

MS: So I don't have a sense in these letters whether it really was just a personal conflict or whether there was something more political.

BG: It doesn't give any meat. Did we disagree over what the purpose of the chapter was? How the meetings should be run? Who should belong? How public we should be? None of that appears in this.

MS: Right.

BG: So what could you be personally at odds about in an arena like this?

MS: Right. Well I don't know. What was the flavor of the group at that point? You were obviously a new group, just starting, getting off the ground, holding discussion groups.

KL: Because disagreements were such small potatoes in those days. You know the movement had no place out in the world.

MS: Right.

KL: And all the conflicts were just these miniscule personal things that had no meaning to anybody and nobody would even remember.

BG: They would enlarge and do something huge but they really didn't have any great significance. It was a little, small, tight little world. And things get out of proportion.

MS: Right.

BG: Which is why I cannot recall what these conflicts with Joan were all about.

MS: Well I think it's very telling, because if they were significant political differences, I think you would probably have remembered them.

BG: Right. Well I remembered a lot of those in my later years in the movement, but in this beginning, I cannot figure out what those would have been about.

MS: And how about relations between DOB and Mattachine Society in New York. It seems again that they were pretty cooperative. You shared an office.

BG: Yes, they were very happy to help us out.

MS: Was that the direction of the help? It was Mattachine helping out DOB to get more established.

BG: Mainly yes, because we didn't have the money. They had an office. It was a little place, a little small place, but they did have an office. And that's where we met. So their help was very substantial. And they would help us with publicity for anything that we might put on there. They turned out their membership to come to any of our public events or public forums. Of course, they expected some reciprocity. They would hope that we'd come to some of their events. But they did a lot in practical ways to help us out.

MS: Was your sense that relations between lesbians and gay men were closer in the movement at that point than they might have been, say, in the bars or in the community in general? Some people have suggested that to me.

BG: Oh, I think so, because there were so few of us. I remember as late as the sixties one of my acquaintances speaking of that sweet clubby atmosphere that we used to have in the movement. Well yes, it was a sweet, clubby atmosphere, in spite of disagreements and differences, because there were so few of us and we felt so beleaguered. And we had to stand up against the whole world. So cooperation was really important.

KL: But I don't know that the men and women got along any better in the movement than out in the general gay community.

BG: What do you mean by that? That women might have felt slighted as women?

KL: No, just the opposite. I think the men and women got along reasonably well in those years, both within the movement and in the larger community.

BG: Well that may be.

MS: What I've heard from some other people I've talked to is that back in the early sixties there was actually very little contact between lesbians and gay men and that the movement was one place where contact was established. I've interviewed a man who was involved in the Mattachine Society in Philadelphia in '60-'61 and that was the first place that he got to know lesbians.

KL: Yeah, but you didn't talk to somebody out in Reading, Pennsylvania.

MS: Right.

KL: You see, once you get away from these big cities where it is easy to be a separatist [?].

MS: I wanted to shift focus for a few minutes here to talk again about Philadelphia. We were talking about your role in New York. But this was right around the time in 1960 that the first Mattachine Society was established in Philadelphia. And there was a lot of coverage, I think, in 1960 when one of the first meetings of the new Mattachine Society of Philadelphia was raided in Radnor. And I think you put me in touch last fall or last summer with Jack Adair, who I talked to by phone and I'm going to try to meet when I'm in California this spring.

BG: Oh good, good.

MS: I think that would be really interesting.

BG: You'll get an earful about that.

MS: Well I think 84 people were arrested.

BG: It was at his family's home that the raid occurred.

MS: And then in some of the papers that I've looked through I've found some references to you and some movies. And I know that there were movies shown at his place, some documentary movies.

BG: I was never there. I was never there.

MS: And one of the letters was from you to Curtis in 1960. It says, "You deserve congratulations for securing several films on the lesbian theme. Now how the hell did you do it, when I've tried for some time with no success?" And I wondered if they were talking about the films that they showed in Radnor?

BG: No, I don't recall lesbian films at Jack's do.

MS: Were you there?

BG: No, I was not there.

MS: You weren't there.

BG: No, I was not there.

MS: But you heard about it?

BG: Oh yes, I heard about it. Everyone heard about it because of the repercussions. I'm trying to think what would the films be. Does it give any titles?

MS: Well here, from Curtis to you, "In answer to June 15th letter, the films are still in planning stages. Found two or three which are possible." And then in July, there's a letter from Albert to you, saying, "Curtis and I expect to attend the Philadelphia group meeting on July 27." And this is a quote: "If you can make it, we would be pleased to see you." Obviously you weren't able to make it, but that led me to believe that it was those movies. It was all around the same time, June and July from that year. But they were trying to get movies to come down to Philadelphia and help start a chapter here.

BG: My recall is that the films out at the Stables, at Jack's place, were a fundraiser for Mattachine here. Does that conflict with something that you've heard?

MS: No, no, no, not necessarily. Do you mean a fundraiser for the local Mattachine?

BG: Yes, a fundraiser for the local Mattachine and this would be '61 or '62.

MS: The raid was in '60.

BG: In '60? That early? O.K. I thought it was supposed to be a fundraiser for the Mattachine.

MS: But you said you did hear about it at the time. Did you hear about it from the New Yorkers who you were seeing all the time?

BG: I must have been keeping up with somebody in Philadelphia. Maybe I had nominal membership in the Mattachine Society and would have been hearing about things that way.

Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings

Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings in 1971. Photo: Kay Lahusen, Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin Lahusen Gay History Papers and Photographs, New York Public Library.

MS: Well one thing I noticed actually in the early years of The Ladder is that you weren't the only Philadelphian who seemed to be published there. And I assume that it was through your contacts that people like Joan Fraser and Jody Shotwell were having their material sent.

BG: Well Jody was actually not a member of Daughters of Bilitis so much as she was active in Mattachine Society.

MS: Right.

BG: Now here was a woman that I think was bisexual. At least she represented herself as bisexual. She had a husband and several children, but she had had lesbian episodes throughout her life. And for some reason she just felt more comfortable in the atmosphere of Mattachine Society. Now she was at the raid.

MS: Right. And were you friends with her at this point?

BG: Yeah, we were friendly. She didn't stay away from Daughters of Bilitis, but I don't think she found it all that appealing.

MS: Did she have trouble as a teacher being involved?

BG: She wasn't a teacher.

MS: She wasn't.

BG: No, I don't believe she was a teacher. Joan Fraser was a teacher. Joan would have had trouble.

KL: You know, just looking back, there were women in the Mattachine group here in Philadelphia who perhaps were more geared to activism and, I don't know, trying to begin to stir for social change. Whereas DOB was more of a coffee klatch kind of low profile thing. Do you think that the tensions were over that?

BG: That might have been it, but I honestly don't know.

KL: Because you didn't really get into activism until the early sixties.

BG: Until the early sixties, that's true. Because my first few years in the movement, I was just sort of muddling through but not knowing where I was heading. And it was really Frank Kameny that helped crystallize my thinking about what I was doing in this movement and what the movement should be doing. So I can't say in my early years in DOB that I had strong ideas of what we should be doing. So why I should have big arguments with anybody I can't figure out.

KL: Some of these women did hew to Mattachine here.

BG: Joan Fraser was active in both, as I recall.

MS: Mae Polakoff?

BG and KL: Mae Polakoff, yes.

MS: Can you tell me something about her?

BG: She ran a secretarial service.

MS: That's what you said in one other interview, I think.

BG: I don't remember much more about her, at least not at the moment. Some recall might come later.

KL: Quite frankly, the Mattachines and the male-dominated groups always did seem more wordly, more out there, relating to the world, trying to do something out in the world. Because DOB was, "Come you little crippled one, we'll help you. You come into our group and we'll help you get accepted. Get into a skirt and become acceptable in society." That's a terrible coloration. I'll put that in my interview. Never mind.

MS: One other thing I want to ask you about the local scene, which is that it's at this point in time that I think you started making some contacts with Spencer Coxe and the local chapter of the ACLU. So even though you, I think very modestly, describe yourself as not being active on the Philadelphia scene, that connection with the local ACLU proved to be incredibly important, I think, locally.

BG: Fascinating, because you know Spencer and I are good friends, but I do not remember anything about that.

MS: Well, maybe I'll try again to see if I can jog your memory.

BG: O.K.

MS: Here, this was in May of 1960, you write a letter saying. "Thanks for explaining the Granahan bill and sending me ACLU literature." You enclosed a check to become a member.

BG: That was when I first joined ACLU? Huh?

MS: 1960.

BG: I'm still a member!

MS: Oh really.

BG: Yes.

MS: You sent him a copy of The Ladder. And you described it. You described the Mattachine Society. You say, "A group with very similar aims but open to both men and women." And then you say, in parentheses, "I belong only to DOB. That's work enough." And then you go on to say, "Homophiles, like all other citizens, hold a great variety of personal opinions on government, civil liberties, and other subjects." And then you say, "I myself am very conservative, even rigid in my thinking, and yet I find myself agreeing with ACLU's stand on almost all matters." And then obviously he wrote you back. He thanks you for responding. He says that he read a copy of The Ladder. He says, "This office has never received a complaint of denial of due process to a homosexual person, but we'd be perfectly willing to investigate any such complaint and take action in light of our policy of defending the civil liberties of anyone. I hope you will feel free to bring to my attention any instances that you hear of in Pennsylvania."

BG: Well that's interesting. And of course one reason that ACLU wouldn't be hearing them is that most people who suffered these problems took them back to the closet with them.

MS: Right. But it seemed that you were trying to act as some sort of conduit for people.

BG: Mmhmm.

MS: And getting them in touch with the ACLU.

BG: I guess I was beginning to see the possibilities of making changes that would be permanent changes in our situation, that we wouldn't always have to be living lives of cringing fear.

MS: Right. Do you recall anything more about the contacts with the ACLU in those early years?

BG: At one time, it must have been some years later, I was invited to consider running for the local board of ACLU. And I went to a couple of meetings and I enjoyed the meetings very much but I felt that it was beyond my capacities and that I really wanted to put my time into the gay rights movement. So I declined, but I found it interesting, I found I liked the way lawyers talk.

MS: Mmhmm. That was some years later, you think?

BG: Perhaps not too many years later, but at some later point. Why would ACLU have reached out to me, except that by then Spencer must have known me as somebody reliable and probably figured why not invite her to serve on the board or to run for the board.

MS: Well I know you started asking questions about government jobs and military discharges.

BG: You see that shows the influence of Frank Kameny. I wouldn't have thought of these things generally before I met Frank.

MS: That early? This is why I'm trying to figure out whether maybe you're being too modest.

BG: What's the date you have on that letter?

MS: Maybe you were thinking of this on your own. This was in 1960.

BG: I hadn't met Frank then.

KL: That's right.

BG: Well all right, so I must have been thinking.

KL: You hadn't met me then.

BG: No, I hadn't met you and I hadn't met Frank.

MS: Right. "Now I have personally been under the impression that security clearance is denied homosexuals for their homosexuality alone." Your statement. You start to take issue with some of the ACLU statements. And then you write, this was very interesting to me, in 1960, "I imagine, indeed I hope, that you have been busy with the current obscenity drive in Philadelphia, as well as other business. So irritated was I by the stupid and malicious things done on behalf of censorship that I wrote a rather astringent letter to The Inquirer, which was published on June 16th.

KL: Did you find that?

MS: I haven't looked it up yet. So do you remember anything about an obscenity drive? I know I'm asking you questions about the little things.

BG: Well occasionally I do remember the little things. I'm trying to get some recall on this. What was the obscenity drive?

MS: They were trying to close down porn stores?

BG: I don't know that we had porn stores then.

MS: I haven't looked into this myself yet either, so I don't know.

KL: And ever since her father went after her books, she's been a defender.

BG: But what passed for an obscenity drive then is not what people would think of today.

MS: It was a group called the Committee on Decent Literature, something like that, that I know around this time nationally was interested in censorship. Well one other thing I'll just check with you on the ACLU. I thought this was very interesting. On the bottom of one of Spencer Coxe's letters to you, there is scribbled a note to one of the New York staffers of the ACLU. And he writes, "I imagine there is a large field for membership promotion here."

BG: Ah!

MS: "But I am not sure how far we should go to take advantage of it." And what interested me was that the ACLU was helping us, but in some ways we were also helping the ACLU.

BG: Well of course, they would like to recruit members. I wonder why he had mental reservations about delving too deeply into this. Because he does not strike me as that kind of person.

KL: But Barbara, that just shows the temper of the times.

BG: That even someone as open-minded as Spencer Coxe could have felt we might overdo it.

KL: Yes. Yeah, you really have no idea. You can't imagine, you're too young, how awful it was then.

MS: Well I certainly capture some sense from all the reading that I do, but you're right, I can't.

BG: It's interesting to hear that from Spencer, because of all people, he's about as open a person as you would find.

MS: Well my sense was that you did a lot of educating of the local ACLU folks and then the local ACLU folks did a lot of educating of the national ACLU folks.

KL: Barbara, were you singing at that time with Spencer in your chorus as well?

BG: No, I don't think so. He didn't join until well after all this.

KL: So he didn't know you from musical circles.

BG: No, he and his wife joined our group about ten, twelve years ago.

MS: He obviously thought very highly of you, even very early on, because he was writing letters to other people singing your praises.

BG: Well that's very nice to know. I'm going to talk to him about that on Monday night.

MS: But it also seemed to me that again you were being more active locally.

BG: But I suppose I must have seen ACLU as one major bridge between our small, struggling movement and the outside world. Now you must be aware that ACLU was not then in the kind of disrepute it has now. It wasn't the target of nasty comments from the White House and so forth and from a lot of other quarters. People either joined it or they didn't join it, but they didn't have such strong feelings. Some of the more controversial positions that ACLU took didn't come along until the late seventies, eighties, and certainly now the nineties.

MS: So they were much more widely accepted.

BG: Much more widely accepted because actually the range of material that they covered, the range of issues that they were covering, was rather more limited. And for those of us who had a basic civil libertarian streak, it was a very obvious kind of organization to support. So I'm glad to know when it was I joined for the first time. I could not remember how I'd come to join ACLU. But obviously this is a bridge between us and the mainstream world.

MS: Right. And as it turned out, I think a really important bridge.

BG: Yes. And we were also still under the impression that we had to use these conduits, that we couldn't be heard on our own.

MS: Right.

BG: And to some extent, this was true, because what kind of a forum did we have for ourselves? We had to enlist anybody that we could to help fight our battles for us. And I don't think there was anything shameful in doing that. It was just that the time was coming when we had to start speaking for ourselves. I remember a time later, not very much later than this, when at some meeting of gay activists on the East Coast, somebody said to Frank Kameny, "Oh, we have representatives from the ACLU who come and talk to our meetings." And Frank said, "Well that's very nice, but we go and talk to the ACLU." So already he was moving out of the "we're going to be passive, we're going to let them tell us how to do it, we're going to let them do it for us," into Frank's idea of "we go out and we stand up for ourselves and we tell the world what we want them to know."

MS: Right. Well maybe I'll just ask one other set of questions on the years in the early sixties. I know that this was when you met Kay and I guess Kay moved down to Philadelphia shortly after that. And I'm curious about what might have changed about your life in Philadelphia with both your new level in involvement in DOB and your new relationship. I assume that you moved in together.

KL: Mmhmm.

BG: That was 21st Street.

MS: Did your neighbors know that you were partners? Did your landlord know?

BG: I don't know. I don't think so.

KL: It was the kind of ratty little building where a lot of offbeat people lived there. Nobody mixed very much. But there were a bunch of eccentrics and we didn't really consort with one another anyway.

BG: And I don't think the landlord cared much, as long as the rents were paid and the place wasn't torn up. No I agree, it was a ratty little building.

MS: Did you want to live where you were living because it was close to where other lesbians lived?

BG: It was cheap.

KL: It was cheap.

BG: It was cheap, yes. I don't know what the rent was, but it was really cheap, even for that neighborhood at that time.

MS: Would you say it was a gay neighborhood?

BG: No. I didn't think of it as a gay neighborhood.

MS: What about Rittenhouse? It was not far from Rittenhouse Square, right?

BG: That's true.

KL: We could go for walks around Rittenhouse Square in the evenings, at midnight, and not worry. Things were safe then. And it was quite a cruising area for gay men and we knew that we were among friends there.

MS: And so Rittenhouse Square did have a gay feel to you in those years in the early sixties.

KL: Oh yes. Clark Polak we met there one evening in spanking white pants. Remember? He was cruising.

BG: It's true, but as a neighborhood, I don't remember that we knew people in the neighborhood who were gay.

KL: No, we didn't particularly.

BG: They would meet in Rittenhouse Square.

MS: Did you have the feeling that there were parts of the city that there were lots of lesbians and gay men living in or going to for their social lives? Because people talk later on about that.

KL: We knew they were around us, but frankly movement people weren't that well-integrated into the general gay community. We were the oddballs. Honestly, we were looked down on. Or occasionally we went to parties and they sort of used us to tell them fascinating, titillating tales, but they would never think of going to a meeting or picketing.

MS: So you were socializing with others?

BG: Mainly with movement people.

MS: With movement people.

BG: Mainly with movement people.

KL: We were invited one night to the Rosenbach Museum for dinner. Do you remember?

BG: Oh, yes. We ate off silver service.

KL: Gold, wasn't it gold? I remember gold plates.

BG: I thought it was silver. I mean real silver. Silver plates, silver flatware, silver goblets.

KL: I still remember a lot of gold.

BG: She remembers it as gold. I remember it as silver.

MS: Was there a gay connection there?

BG: Yes. The then curator of the museum was a gay man that we had met somewhere along the line.

MS: What was his name?

BG: I cannot remember. If you present me with a name or two, I might say, "Oh yes, that was the one," but I cannot remember at the moment. Anyway, he invited twelve of us, and we were two of the twelve, to this dinner in the dining room of the Rosenbach.

MS: Were you the only two women or were there other women there?

BG: I think we were the only two women. We're often the only two women.

MS: Really?

BG: We found we often were the only two women at some kind of gathering or event. Didn't bother us very much mostly. Especially movement events.

KL: But as with all minorities, only a tiny minority of the minority wants to be involved with political activism and agitation for change. Most of them just want to have nice dinner parties and go to a party and have a good time and hold a nice job and be upwardly mobile, which used to be possible. And really movement people were viewed as…

BG: Upstarts.

KL: I don't know, but rocking the boat: "Why don't you just keep quiet and go away."

Barbara Gittings, Annual Reminder 1966

Barbara Gittings at the Annual Reminder, Independence Hall, Philadelphia, 1966.

MS: Well you mentioned Clark Polak. And maybe it's time to talk about him and the Janus Society and Trojan. Because it seems to me that maybe he was the exception in what you're saying. That he was a movement person who seems to have been well-connected in the community as well. Or is that not the case?

BG: Well I don't know.

KL: I wouldn't know. Maybe he did go to the men's bars and he moved in a lot of different circles. I'm not sure. Clark made money, which gave him a certain entre that we didn't have because we didn't have money to throw around. We couldn't go out on the town and have dinner in fancy restaurants.

MS: Right. I know you've talked a little bit about him being an irascible sort.

BG: He was very difficult and very brash and very abrasive with people. And also he did an awful lot for the movement.

MS: Can you tell me a little bit more about him and also about his office. I wonder if you ever recall going to his office?

BG: Yeah, sure.

MS: You were there quite a lot?

BG: Let's see.

MS: It was on 17th.

BG: Are you talking about the one at the warehouse or the other one?

MS: I'm curious about the warehouse, too.

KL: I don't remember this warehouse.

BG: You mean the Homosexual Law Reform Society?

MS: Well actually I just talked to someone today who said that the Janus Society had offices down the hall from Drum and from the Trojan Book Service.

KL: Yeah. It was a Center City office and he had Drum all over the place.

BG: 17th Street, I think it was.

MS: Right.

KL: He liked the name Drum and we couldn't see a connection and then he said "a different drummer." He had this idea that Drum could be a gay Playboy. And therefore he mixed in the soft porn with all this news about law reform, hither there and yon, and it was a startling idea. And a little bit shocking in a way. And I had never seen soft gay male porn. So this was my very first time ever opening a magazine and seeing all those male nudes and all that.

MS: At the office? That was where you saw it for the first time?

KL: Yeah.

MS: Right.

KL: And heretofore our newsletters and ONE magazine had been pretty circumspect.

MS: Right. That's one of the interesting things that I've been thinking a lot about. The lesbian and gay historians who have written about this period write about the Mattachine Review, The Ladder, and ONE. And in the meantime, at least from Clark's records, Drum had a circulation larger than all of the others, of course, because of these photos.

KL: Well, I frequently raise Drum. But I agree with you. It has been neglected. I think he was an important person. Just because he wasn't well liked doesn't mean he shouldn't be important.

MS: Right. I know there was a controversy in the mid-sixties about this Kansas City conference where he arranged to have it held at a physique photographer's studio. Does that sound familiar?

KL: It was in a hotel as far as I remember.

MS: The meetings were going to be held in a physique photography studio?

KL: And did they go back on that and switch it?

MS: A lot of people got quite upset.

BG: They might have switched that, especially since women were coming to the conference.

MS: I think the compromise was that there was a press conference held at a hotel, but some of the meetings were held there.

KL: I don't remember meetings there, but there might have been and I just don't remember them.

BG: On the other hand, he might very well have said, "Look, I'm getting this space for you free. Take advantage of it."

MS: That is exactly what he said.

BG: Right. I was probably not too happy at seeing the skin stuff in his magazine at first because I had this kind of purist notion that we should be able to propagandize to the world and prevail. Our views should prevail on their own merits and I hadn't accepted the idea at the time that sex sells. And that you should take advantage of that.

KL: Well, we were trying to contradict the idea that we were primarily sexual beings.

BG: That we were purely sexual actors.

KL: So we thought that we had to go in another direction.

MS: Well I think that's interesting what you said about Drum being a gay Playboy, because I think in many ways his philosophy was more like Playboy's.

KL: Well that's what he wanted. Those were his words.

MS: Is that right?

KL: Yeah. He said it was time for a gay Playboy. And he was a good hedonist.

BG: Good word.

KL: And he believed in sex and down with puritanism and he thought that this was the way to go. And he made a lot of money at it. And yes he did have a book service that made a lot of money. And then he turned around and he used his money to help the cause. There's no doubt about it. Sponsoring law reform.

BG: Sponsoring the brief that was submitted.

MS: For Boutilier.

BG: Boutilier, yes.

KL: And our picketing signs.

BG: I don't know how much he paid for that, but it cost something to produce that.

MS: I actually have a little budget for that. I don't recall the figure now, but I have tracked down how much he spent on that.

BG: You could probably ask Gil Cantor, the lawyer who did it.

MS: Is he still around?

BG: Yeah, he's still around.

KL: Our early picketing signs had been badly done, just scrawled by hand. And he said, "Hey, you've got to have good looking picketing signs." And he went out and bought them. I don't think he even picketed. I think his nose was out of joint with the organizations. And I don't think he even came. And not because he was in the closet.

BG: So he would do printing. He would have printing done for us and he did the signs.

KL: Because the signs here at Independence Hall are highly readable. And those were all paid for by Clark.

BG: Very professionally painted. Very, very good. What a world of difference it made to the appearance of the picket lines.

KL: He was really abrasive, but you've got to hand it to him.

MS: Do you remember what the office looked like? Was it an active office with lots of people scurrying around?

BG: No, no, not like that. It was all Clark.

KL: Oh no. It was a one man band.

BG: I mean he could fill ten rooms by himself with his energy. Just out of his own sheer energy.

KL: And he was very proud of the fact that he had done so well financially. I mean he was a self-made person.

MS: Do you know anything about his background? Where he came from? When he appeared on the scene?

KL: I think he's in the Polak family that you find when you read the Sunday Inquirer Magazine section and a piece is done by Lois Polak?

BG: Marilyn?

KL: Marilyn Polak?

BG: Marilyn or Lois Polak? No, it's not the same. I don't think it's the same.

KL: I think it's the same family.

MS: Someone told me that he may have come from the Northeast.

BG: I really don't remember his background.

KL: I think he was from a fairly prominent family. He might have even had some family money behind it, but he made it on his own.

BG: The wayward child.

KL: That's the main thing and he carved his own way.

MS: Jumping ahead of the story a little bit, for a second, I know that he left Philadelphia at the end of the sixties. And it was right after he had been arrested on a whole series of obscenity counts. And I'm trying to dig around to find out whether he was basically chased out of town.

BG: Go to Gil Cantor.

MS: Really? Do you think he would know that?

BG: I think they probably kept up some kind of contact because Gil did a beautiful brief and it's the sort of thing that Clark would have done. Just keep in touch with him because he might need him again for something else.

MS: Right.

KL: Do you know his later history, Clark Polak?

MS: I know that he ended up committing suicide in Southern California. That's all I know though.

BG: He did movie reviews.

KL: He went out there. He went through an earthquake. It scared him to death. He was going to leave, but then he decided to stay. He did movie reviews? I don't remember that.

BG: He wrote movie reviews for one of the papers, one of the second string papers in Los Angeles.

KL: He became an art critic, Barbara. Not movies.

BG: It wasn't movies? Oh, I'm sorry.

KL: Everybody said, "Clark Polak, what's he know about art?" Anyway, he was a really curious person. So many aspects to his personality and you had to be very forgiving to like him because he was so abrasive, but that's the kind of person that I insist must be appreciated for all that he did.

MS: But your relationships with him were friendly during this time?

BG: I think so. I don't think I had any particular grounds for real disagreement with him. And if we did have disagreements, we probably scrapped over it and then came to some happy compromise and went on.

KL: I think we just didn't like him a lot so we sort of avoided him. He was also using a clipping service to help him put news in Drum. So of course in a way he was far ahead of the rest of us, who were just getting it catch as catch can.

BG: That's right. We had to depend on what people were willing to send us.

KL: Whereas he had the money to pay a clipping service.

MS: Do you know how that was arranged? Was it a local clipping service?

KL: Yes. It was, I think, in his building or nearby. I remember going there once.

BG: Do you think the outfit's still in existence?

KL: Oh I doubt it. Well who knows?

BG: I mean it must have been the first time that a professional service was asked to spot this kind of material.

MS: Right.

BG: And I think it would be interesting to talk to the clipper who was put on the case.

MS: That's right. I think there are a lot of associated businesses like that. Printers for each publication who must have come across this material and been among the first straight people to encounter the gay movement.

BG: Ahah.

KL: But he could sort of buy his way. He had enough money to get things like that whereas the rest of us were always on a shoestring, in the red, and every penny counted.

BG: And will the printer take this, that sort of thing. He didn't care. He would keep shopping and he had the money to shop until he got a printer who would do it.

MS: And would you say that this was all possible for him because he was a man, that this would have been impossible for a woman to do at this time, in the sixties.

BG: Not impossible. I think the fact that he was such a bundle of energy and determined and had the money.

KL: Well, plus, there's always more money in gay male porn than any avenue of porn that would have been open to women. I mean suppose you had set up a porn press. Who would you have sold it to? Not that you would have, but didn't he have an early bookstore?

BG: Drum ran a bookstore.

KL: Before Giovanni's Room was Jay's Place. Jay was Clark's lover.

MS: Oh, O.K.

KL: And they broke up. It was pretty messy and everybody said, "Oh Clark always really loved Jay and couldn't get over him." It was a big romance thing underneath it all, even though Clark was running around.

MS: What was Jay's full name?

KL: I don't know. He was a cute guy. But anyway he ended up buying the bookstore from Clark.

BG: And called it Jay's Place.

KL: And called it Jay's Place. And what did Clark call it? I don't remember. It was down at Broad and Spruce.

MS: Broad and Spruce.

BG: Mmhmm.

MS: There's some references I've seen to Ed's Bookstore. But I don't think that would have been it.

BG: No, that doesn't ring a bell.  

MS: We were just talking about Clark Polak and the Janus Society. I know Janus Society pretty much became a one-person operation, but certainly in the early years it was more than just Clark. And I'm wondering if you recall anything about other people who were involved with Janus.

KL: Oh, it would have been the Mattachine people. Mattachine transformed into Janus.

MS: Right, right.

BG: They ran a contest for a name.

MS: Do you recall who came up with the name?

BG: I wonder if it was Marge.

MS: Marge McCann?

BG: I think it might have been she who came up with the name for the two-faced god. Ask her about that. Just off the top of my head, I may be wrong, but I think she was the winner of the contest.

MS: There was a woman who worked at Janus named Barbara Harris who wrote the members' newsletter.

BG: I vaguely remember it. The name rings a bell. I'm not sure I remember her.

MS: She was the only the only woman listed on the masthead in Drum. And there's a lot of correspondence back and forth. People tried to get to Clark through her in a lot of ways. And people didn't know why she was working with him, so I'm curious if you remember.

BG: And she acted as a screen for him?

MS: I think so, but you don't remember much about her?

BG: No. The name I do recall.

KL: The name sounds familiar.

BG: I know that she was an important figure. Dark hair, that's all I remember.

MS: I know that there were signs in about '65, '66 that there was enough dissension with Clark's leadership that a few women started talking about forming a chapter of the Mattachine Society locally, another chapter of the Mattachine Society. I think Marge McCann was involved with that. Do you know anything about that, about how that started? Why they chose Mattachine and not DOB at that stage?

BG: I don't know. No, I don't.

KL: Because, again, the Mattachines always were weightier. Do you know what I mean? They always stood for more, us against the world, around the world. Not that we did much in the world then. We couldn't get the world to pay any attention to us hardly.

BG: But for the time.

Ladder, 1965 July-August

Cover of the Ladder, July 1965.

MS: But of all places, Philadelphia I wouldn't expect to have chosen to affiliate with the more active organization, because people have that image of Philadelphia as being so much more quiet.

BG: But you have to remember, one of the first conferences of East Coast activists was held in Philadelphia. I think it was 1963.

MS: Right. I think you've said that you weren't at the conference.

BG: No, I think I was away somewhere. But I had been to one in Washington a year or two before and things were already beginning to turn more activist for all of us. The sense was in the air.

MS: I know that caused some trouble with the DOB leadership on the West Coast and I know that you ended up having some trouble while you were editor of The Ladder over that issue.

BG: Oh.

MS: I was wondering if you can talk about that.

BG: At one of the conferences of what was then called the East Coast Homophile Organizations, scheduled for Washington, D.C., there was to be a debate called, informally, "Act versus Teach." Should we put our eggs mainly in the basket of changing laws and policies to force the changes that we want in public attitude or do we try first to change public attitudes and then the changes in law would follow.

MS: Right.

BG: And for this debate, Frank Kameny was taking mainly the act position versus a Dr. Kurt Konietzko from Philadelphia, who was taking mainly the teach position. And this sounded like a really good tug of war that was to happen. And I was trying to line up people to cover all of the events of the conference. And I was sending out letters to all sorts of people saying, "Will you cover this? Will you cover this panel? Will you cover the religion seminar?" And so forth. And I wrote to someone in Washington, a friend in Washington, and asked her to cover this debate between Frank Kameny and Kurt Konietzko.

MS: This was for The Ladder because you were the editor.

BG: For The Ladder. And at the time I was being asked by national headquarters of DOB to send them carbons of all my correspondence. So I dutifully shipped the carbons out and thought nothing more of it until suddenly came this letter excoriating me for planning to promote in the pages of The Ladder a viewpoint which was against the philosophy of the Daughters of Bilitis.

MS: Who was the letter from?

BG: I'd have to dig it up and find out. It was from someone on the board of DOB.

KL: Cleo Glenn or Del and Phyl? Or who knows? Maybe they all struggled over it together.

BG: It obviously would have had to come from the then president of DOB, whoever that was. But I don't have a copy of the letter. Maybe I do somewhere, but maybe you could find it. It was quite a surprise to me, because I thought, "Look this is just a debate that is going to be held at a conference." And here they're criticizing it before it's even happened and saying it shouldn't even be reported on.

MS: Right.

KL: But they knew you had activist leanings.

BG: I guess so. Anyway, they claimed that it was against the philosophy of Daughters of Bilitis and I went ahead and I didn't ask the reporter that I'd originally asked. You and I covered it. You covered it. Kay covered it with a tape recorder. And you must understand that tape recorders in that time were very big and very heavy and very bulky. You didn't just carry around a little cassette that you could slip into your coat pocket. This was a big machine like that. Oh how can I describe it for the tape? It's like that. These were the smallest, the most portable types. And they weighed a ton. And this thing you'd have to carry around and carry around. And it was reel to reel, seven inch reels, and you'd feed it with these reels. Well Kay taped it and wrote it up for The Ladder. And afterwards I seem to remember getting a letter of congratulations from headquarters of Daughters of Bilitis saying that this was a very fine write-up. The very thing they criticized me for wanting to cover. Because it came out as very much of a draw. The debate was not as sharply one-sided as I had thought it would be. I thought Frank Kameny would come out on top and would leave Konietzko in the dust. That wasn't the way it came out. Konietzko put forward his arguments very persuasively. Frank gave his argument, saying if you wait for the public attitudes to change before you change the law, you will wait forever. And the Black people have learned that. So first you change the law and that creates a new reality that people have to accommodate to. And that forces the attitude changes a lot faster. Konietzko said, on the other hand, if you don't make those changes in people's hearts and minds, where it really counts, you're going to have to go to the courts each time you want it. And then go back to the courts and go back to the courts, because they will not grant you these rights in their hearts. And you'll have to keep going to the courts. So he said you have to do some public education and something to change attitudes. He's not against changing the law, but says it can't do it all by itself. The balance in the debate was very even and it was an excellent exposition of the virtues and drawbacks of each position. So I think when they saw it in print, they realized that it was a really good deal. But that was one of many problems that I was having with the powers that be at Daughters of Bilitis.

MS: There had been the conflict over picketing, I guess, when the picketing started.

BG: They wouldn't support it. They wouldn't support it. Most of the groups on the East Coast did support it finally, some a little reluctantly, some more eagerly. And when I wanted to run a pro and con in the pages of The Ladder, giving both for and against, what are the advantages of picketing and what are the drawbacks, I asked someone from Daughters of Bilitis to give a con attitude or position, and they would not do it. So I filled the pages with some other comments from other people. I didn't really know why they were opposed to it, because they certainly took up activism with great fervor not very long after that in San Francisco. It wasn't long after the picketing was starting and was very controversial on the East Coast that one of the major gay groups in San Francisco called a big town meeting of gay people at an election time and demanded that the candidates running for Board of Supervisors, which is City Council in San Francisco, and for mayor, come and talk to the gay population. That was a coup in itself. And they realized the power of politics. They made a tremendous political breakthrough there and they were in for it.

MS: You may have lost the battle but won the war, I guess.

BG: Yes.

MS: Do you remember who the people at DOB headquarters were at that time?

BG: It would be reflected on the masthead of the magazine and I can get you those names.

MS: And then it seemed also there were some East Coast people who were on their side, who were very supportive of withdrawing DOB from ECHO and not picketing. Do you remember who any of those people were?

BG: There definitely was disagreement.

KL: Did Shirley want to picket?

BG: Oh I think she did.

KL: Did she?

BG: I think she did.

MS: Well I have a couple things here about that. There's one letter that's unsigned actually to Cleo Glenn and it says, "Shirley and Marion called us back yesterday morning to report that ECHO defeated the motion to the effect that ECHO may not engage in any activity contrary to the policy or welfare of any participating organization." Blah, blah, blah. "We all agreed there was nothing more to do but withdraw from the affiliation. Shirley would like to have a directive in writing and a statement of policy from the board immediately. Phyllis and I have drawn up a formal statement for your approval. Please phone and let us know what you think. Then I propose that we get in touch with Marge McCann and Del Shearer and Barbara Gittings and so advise them of our intentions before sending final draft to Shirley." Now Shirley indicated that Joan and Marge fought with them over DOB's policy. And I don't think there's any specific reference more to you. But then there's this other letter written by Cleo Glenn, Phyllis, and Del Martin to Marge McCann, Del Shearer, you, and you.

BG: And they're setting forth their position that we have to withdraw from ECHO?

MS: That's right.

BG: Because ECHO wants to do picketing and this is against the policy. I certainly would have been opposed to that.

MS: So I guess Marge McCann and Del Shearer were allies of yours in this case.

BG: Probably.

MS: And then shortly after that you were eased out of the editorship? Is that what happened?

BG: I was eased out in mid-'66. And the immediate reason given was that I was chronically late with the material that I had to send to headquarters. The final production was done out there.

MS: I see.

BG: I didn't have the kind of end control over it that one really should have. I prepared a sort of mock up, showing how the words would line up on the page, but then it was re-typed in San Francisco.

MS: I see.

BG: And I didn't know what the final product was going to look like until the box of finished copies.

KL: There were many typo errors that we cringed over.

BG: Many typo error, yes. Yes, the typo errors would not have been there had I had control over the final production. But I didn't. Anyway, I was chronically late. It's true. I was frequently late. Not maybe chronically, but frequently late, getting the material out and they were always running a little behind and having to work people hard at headquarters. But that was just the immediate excuse for getting rid of me.

MS: So it was more that you were becoming more militant.

BG: I think so. They wanted to take it in other directions.

MS: That must have been emotionally traumatic in some ways, would you say?

BG: I guess. It was hard to give it up. On the other hand, I really saw the handwriting on the wall. I knew that we couldn't continue the way we were going. But when I had first agreed to take on the magazine, I didn't want to do it. I didn't want to become editor.

MS: Is that right?

BG: They had asked someone else, who said "no, I'm not going to do it." And they turned to me and they said, "Will you do it for a few months until we can find an editor." And I said, "All right, for a few months, I'll do it." And three and a half years later, I was still doing it, because I had learned the power of the press.

MS: Right.

BG: And it's very heady stuff to be able to control what goes out in the pages of something that a lot of people are going to read. I enjoyed that.

MS: You talk about yourself as sort of having just muddled through the first few years. It seems like in those three and a half years you were editing The Ladder that's where you...

BG: Well yes, I certainly had a definite vision. And much of that, most of that in fact, is thanks to Kay.

KL: I thought you were going to say thanks to Frank.

BG: No!

KL: Oh, honey.

BG: You had most of the good ideas for improving the magazine's quality.

MS: Could you tell me what the changes you made in The Ladder were?

BG: All right. Some of the smaller changes. First of all, we didn't like the title The Ladder. And we wanted to identify it. The Ladder? What does that mean to anybody? So we added the subtitle: A Lesbian Review.

MS: Ah, O.K.

BG: And then, over a period of time, we made the letters for The Ladder smaller and smaller and the letters for A Lesbian Review larger and larger until they were about the same size. And we were trying to take it even further. We couldn't get rid of the name, The Ladder, but at least we could pale it into insignificance.

MS: And that's why, whenever I hear you speak, you make a point about saying, The Ladder: A Lesbian Review.

BG: A Lesbian Review, yes.

KL: Well we wanted to call it A Lesbian Review and they wouldn't let us change the name. So we used the subtitle. We wanted to take off that "for adults only."

BG: We wanted to take off that phrase "for sale to adults only." That was one of the major conflicts that I had with the board of Daughters of Bilitis.

MS: I see.

BG: All the early issues of the magazine had carried this little logo on the cover, "for sale to adults only" or "for adults only." I didn't like that. It suggested that there was something in there that shouldn't be in there. And there wasn't anything in the magazine that was objectionable under any of the obscenity laws of the time. I wrote to DOB's own lawyer in San Francisco and got an opinion in writing from him that you don't need the phrase on the cover of the magazine because if the content is legally salacious, the phrase will not protect you from the law. And if the content is not legally salacious, you don't need the phrase. So period, just drop it. I dropped it and there was a big uproar at Daughters of Bilitis headquarters and I was immediately ordered to reinstate it. And not only that. They made up a rubber stamp, saying "for adults only," and rubber-stamped most of the copies of the issue on which I had failed to put it in the cover photo. I was mad about that. There probably is some correspondence about that where I said, "Look, your own lawyer said the damned thing isn't needed. It looks cheap. It looks junky. Let's get rid of it." But I didn't win that battle. I believe at the time that I left editing in mid-1966, that damned phrase was still on the cover.

MS: What were some of the substantive changes that you made in what was covered and how it was covered?

BG: I wanted to have a quality non-fiction book review in every issue. I wanted to have ample coverage of all the political activities going on in the movement, wherever they might be, anywhere in the country. That was kind of hard to do because you had to set up lines of communication to people and get them all to do something more than they were doing and put stuff in the mail to you or get on the phone to you. But I felt it was important to let people know what was happening. I changed entirely the way that Barbara Grier was doing the Lesbiana.

MS: Right, the literature.

BG: Well actually the way she did it in the monthly issues, I thought that was pretty good. She would list the book and give its publication history and then have a paragraph about it.

MS: Right.

BG: Well I liked that. But every year, she would have an annual review of the literature. And at the time that I took over she did not make any real distinction between the junk books and the better books. She said, "You'll know which ones they are." But you couldn't know, just from looking at the titles on the list. And I made her change that to a kind of bibliographic review of the year's output, so that it would be clear when you read her stuff which books were worth bothering with and which were just the junk, the lesbian dreadfuls. And she chafed at that. But I did have her do that.

KL: Didn't she just have a list, earlier, and you made her do an essay?

BG: That's what I mean. I'm sorry, a bibliographic essay is what I meant, in which the titles are all mentioned, but they're put in context with some kind of critical comment. And then, one of the major changes we made, in addition to airing controversial topics, like the picketing, the dedication to research. That was another thing that I had some problems with DOB about. I ran a debate between Frank Kameny and DOB's research director on the value of research to the movement and how many eggs of the movement we should put into the basket of research. And I thought it was a very good back and forth. But it caused some trouble. The main thing we wanted to do was to change the appearance of the magazine. When I inherited it, I was getting nothing but artwork for covers. There was a little file of artwork and it was pretty awful, most of it, really bad. We wanted to show lesbians and others who might be reading the magazine that lesbians are happy, healthy, wholesome, nice looking people just like everyone else. And we had to do this because actually a lot of lesbians at the time didn't know this. They didn't know what to think of being a lesbian. And we had to show not only the world at large, in case anyone was reading it out there, but lesbians who might pick this up, what are lesbians like? There was still a great deal of misinformation and stereotyping and fear even in the gay community. And we wanted to show lesbians as they are. So we had to move gradually from these bad artwork covers. And first we had covers of good artwork, sculptures, for example. A bronze sculpture of a girl or a painting of two women with a cute letter from the artist saying that he'd asked everybody in sight whether he should allow us to use a photograph of his painting. And they all said no, that he shouldn't, but he's going to do it anyway. And it was a fun letter. A photograph of a wooden sculpture of a girl's head. These were good artworks. And then we started getting women in foreign countries who didn't have anything to lose by being on the cover of The Ladder in the United States. A woman from Indonesia, for example, who also sent us some writings about what life was like for lesbians in Indonesia. And a woman who ran what was then a huge lesbian organization in London. And she was very out and very public, so there was a picture of her and a story about her group on one cover. We had covers from the entertainment world. Some stills from the movie, "The Group," which was very popular then.

MS: Right.

BG: And a photograph of a ballet, "The Songs of Bilitis," with Carmen de Lavoland and Vera Zerena dancing the main parts. A beautiful photograph.

MS: And was the idea that it would more appealing in stores?

BG: Yes, much more appealing and also much better for the image of the lesbian who might be picking this up.

KL: Well here we have to contrast it with what went before.

MS: Pictures of ladders, right?

KL: Right.

BG: Yes, the picture of the ladder and these vaguely humanoid figures crawling up this ladder into the sky. Supposedly out of the muck and the murk into the human race.

MS: And how were sales going?

BG: We were able to get The Ladder finally on sale at a bookstore in Philadelphia.

KL: Three bookstores in Philadelphia. Two at Penn.

BG: Yeah. Nichols' place at Penn.

KL: And Robin's in town.

BG: And that's right, Robin's in town and the bookstore that carried the only Red China literature that was available at the time. That was in West Philly.

MS: And what was the third one?

BG: That was the third one. I can't remember his name.

KL: Pennsylvania Book Store, which is still going.

BG: That's Nichols' bookstore, Pennsylvania Book Center. Robin's downtown. They were on 13th Street above Market at the time. They've since moved.

MS: It's the same store that exists today?

BG: Same store, yes. And the third one was this bookstore run up on 40th Street somewhere by a man who was able to get and carry literature from Red China and he carried all kinds of radical stuff. So he was perfectly willing to put The Ladder in the shop.

MS: So I see why he was then, but why do you think you able to convince the other two places? Was there something about Robin's?

BG: Do you remember the conversations?

KL: Oh, I think Nichol's was just very dedicated to having a good academic bookstore that was open to all ideas and points of view. I think that's where he was coming from.

BG: I just think he was open-minded and I think the same for the owners of Robin's. I don't think their sales were enormous, but at least they did carry it and they didn't turn it down. And then in New York, we were able to sell it at a major bookstore/newsstand in Greenwich Village. And they sold nearly 100 copies a month. And that was a lot for the time. You know why? They kept it on a rack right beside the cash register.

MS: So people didn't have to carry it around.

BG: Exactly. They didn't have to carry it around. It was right there.

KL: And they didn't have to ask for it. They saw it.

BG: It was right there. And then we were beginning to move into these live subject photo covers. I told you about the two that we had from foreign countries. Well then finally we were beginning to get pictures of American women. And at first they would only be shown from the back or in shadowy profile, so their features couldn't be recognized. And after a few months of that, we began to get them a little more open, a little more public.

KL: Even I posed once in sunglasses and so did another Philadelphian here. And I did it very uncritically. That's what everybody did then, to hide somewhat, not be totally open. It's crazy.

MS: I guess you can compare what was happening on the cover of The Ladder to what was happening inside Drum.

KL: I know.

MS: Both were taking it off slowly.

BG: Right. But we wanted to boost the image. Well by the time I quit editing The Ladder in mid-1966, we had had a run of covers with wonderful looking women, full face, very recognizable. And we had a waiting list of others who wanted to be models for future covers. And that, to me, was one of the best achievements of our editing The Ladder.

HAL at Christopher Street, 1970

Members of the Homophile Action League (HAL) at the 1970 Christopher Street Liberation Day march in New York. Photo courtesy Kay Tobin Lahusen.

KL: But I wanted to go back. Marc asked about substantive changes and I think you didn't hit a central point, namely that the movement was just at the point of having some interesting debates going on, either/ors. We could have gone down one avenue or another avenue. There were those who said, "No, you can't go forward and speak for yourself. You've got to have the researchers."

BG: Well I did mention the debate with Frank.

KL: Yeah, I know, but what I'm saying is that we thought it was very important to have in The Ladder, in its pages, a good airing of these debates. And to make both sides as persuasive as possible.

BG: So that's why I liked that debate between Kameny and Konietzko, because it beautifully framed the pros and cons of each position.

KL: And even though we had our positions, for the sake of making it good reading, we wanted both positions to be strong. And I think the DOB powers out on the West Coast…

BG: Didn't see it that way.

KL: Didn't see that we would be that even-handed. They couldn't think we would be, 'cause they knew we were in the activist camp. And I think they didn't hand it to us. They didn't give us the credit for wanting to put together an intellectually exciting back and forth on some of these things.

BG: On the other hand, when I invited Daughters of Bilitis out West to explain their opposition to picketing as a tactic, they turned it down.

KL: Well I think they did it because they felt they couldn't stand up in the back and forth. Frank was pretty rough in terms of debating people.

BG: But all they had to do was write something to be put in the pages.

KL: Well they sent out Florence Conrad to take the defending research position against Frank and she didn't hold up so well.

BG: Well that's because we gave him the last say. That wasn't quite even-handed. But we gave her a fair chance.

KL: We tried to be.

BG: But look, we were trying to air the issues of the day, what they were. Now they may look very silly and archaic to people today with the issues so very different, but they were the main things that we wrote about and talked about at that time.

MS: Well I come at all this very fresh, without really very much history in the Philadelphia community. And I have to say that one of the things that struck me as I've been spending so much time with all this material in the last year or so is just how militant Philadelphia's activists turned out to be.

BG: Yes.

MS: And it's not the image that people have of Philadelphia.

KL: Well Barbara's not a native and neither am I.

MS: Right.

BG: Well no, I wasn't raised in Philly.

MS: But at the same point in time, there were several of you living here, and I'm including Clark and Marge McCann, who were seemingly consistently arguing the more militant line. And it makes me wonder if there was something about Philadelphia or about the group of you. Or do you think it really was just a coincidence.

KL: I do think so. I don't think we grew out of native soil to do this.

BG: No.

KL: Philadelphia wouldn't spawn this kind of person..

BG: I mean you could romanticize and say that Independence Hall and the vibrations therefrom, I think that's nonsense.

MS: It was just a group of a few individuals.

BG: It was just a happenstance, I think. Although, of course, when the picketing started at Independence Hall, well that was certainly a hell of a good choice.

MS: Right.

KL: I think Washington came first.

BG: Washington was first, true.

MS: Were the group of you encouraging one another, maybe? I mean were you and Clark in enough contact?

KL: Well I think ECHO encouraged everybody and I think those pickets in Washington really galvanized people. The first pickets down in Washington were so important. I mean it electrified our little movement. O.K., 200 people, whatever it was. This was all a tempest in a teapot. It electrified all of us to hear that there was picketing at the White House.

BG: The first one being the one on Cuba in 1964.

KL: Or picketing in New York. There were a couple of those.

BG: They had almost simultaneous pickets at the United Nations in New York and at the White House in Washington, stemming out of Cuba's antigay policies. And just hearing about that handful of people stepping out into public view and doing this, even if it wasn't recorded anywhere. I mean somebody came around to record it, but even if it wasn't published, they had done it. They had taken the risk. They had taken the chance. And the signs and the messages, it was all very inspiring.

KL: And we were out in Ohio then, because I was closing out my family's home there and we were really a captive of family events. If we hadn't been there, I'm sure we would have been in the very first picket.

BG: We missed the first.

KL: We were in the next picket at the White House, but boy we were so thrilled. We could hardly wait to get back to do it, to do it, too.

BG: I was in the one at the Pentagon and the one at the White House in October, but I missed the ones at the State Department and I think the Civil Service Commission.

KL: Civil Service Commission. I'm not sure the State Department was ever picketed.

BG: I missed those because we were out in Ohio tending to the family.

MS: But now you also, at some point around this time, were serving as some sort of councilor or advisor to someone who was filing some sort of suit?

BG: Oh, I helped Frank, as personal council. Assistant personal council was my grand title. I was supposed to help Frank. Actually I didn't have the kind of fix on what should be done that Frank Kameny had. He had it down cold, but I was there for scenery and to talk to the press when that was desirable and generally to strengthen the whole appearance of lots of people in our corner.

MS: It was a hearing before what?

BG: Well, we went to hearings. We had press conferences outside.

MS: What kind of hearings were they? Before what group?

BG: These were hearings before the Department of Defense's security clearance division.

MS: I see.

BG: And we would go in, Frank and I, dressed to the nines. Frank would be wearing a white shirt and a proper tie and a suit and I would have dress and hose and little heels. And we'd be wearing buttons that said things like "Cheers for Queers" and "Pray for Sodomy." Just to shake up the bureaucratic hearing examiners, because they had to sit across the room from us all day long during the hearings and see these buttons. So we made all the right appearance in our dress, but we had the messages on our chests. And they were dreary, those hearings. I mean you cannot believe today the kinds of things, well yes you can. If you're listening to the January and February '93 arguments about why we shouldn't lift the ban on gays in the military, you get some sense of how dreadful it was back then when they were discussing security clearances. And there were what Frank called the seven cardinal sins. I cannot remember now what they were. I can get some material that would back this up. But they claimed that homosexuals, just by being homosexual, were bad security risks. And even when Frank would say, "Yes, but this person is publicly out. He's not in the closet anymore. How can you possibly blackmail him?," they would come back with their long list of sins. That we're unstable, unreliable, those were two of the seven and a whole bunch of other things. Does this begin to sound familiar?

MS: Yes.

BG: Oh yes. And they would advance the argument that we would upset morale because we were unpopular. But they didn't want to have a rational basis for their policy against gays. They just wanted to get rid of us and to take away our clearances. And they fought tooth and nail. They would even call in psychiatrists to testify to all the terrible characteristics that homosexuals have. One of our favorite enemies, Dr. Charles Socarides, was called by the government at I don't know how much expense to the taxpayers, you and me, to testify in one of these security clearance cases. And he went on, droning on and on, about all the dreadful characteristics of homosexuals. And I remember one thing he said was that, at times, we don't know where our extremities are. Well Kay and I have turned that into a domestic joke that we've had for the last 20 years. We don't know where our extremities are. And he said equally crazy things. Well we had an opportunity to cross-examine him. And of course Frank tried to demolish him, but it didn't help much. And I said to Dr. Socarides, "Dr. Socarides, do you know any homosexuals socially outside your practice?" And he said yes he did. And I said, "Do you find that they have the characteristics that you've described in your patients?" And he said, "Well no they don't." But that didn't cut any ice. It's apples and oranges.

MS: Well maybe we should move on to the late sixties. It's our last twenty minutes or so.

BG: All right.

MS: I know that you start to get involved with the Homophile Action League in the late '60s after the raid on Rusty's.

BG: Yes, I started to. I think they asked me to come and help them discuss what might be done. I wasn't a member, as I recall. I don't think I belonged to the organization. But I was interested because there had been this raid on a lesbian bar and eight women had been arbitrarily arrested and they were mad as hell. One of them was very active in this chapter of Daughters of Bilitis. This was then a chapter of Daughters of Bilitis.

MS: Oh right, right.

BG: It was not the Homophile Action League yet. It was the Daughters of Bilitis and this one young woman, Byrna Aronson, was one of those arrested and she was very upset. And she learned about and started proceedings to have her arrest record expunged, which was about the best you could do at the time. But she also took it, naturally, to her organization, which was the Philadelphia chapter of Daughters of Bilitis. And they discussed what they could do about it. They actually did have an interview with someone in the police department, but they found out afterward, they weren't too sophisticated, and they found they'd been fobbed off on some public relations officer.

MS: I see.

BG: Whose job it is to say the things you want to hear and then send you away and make you think that something's going to be done about it. That's what PR people do in the Police Department.

MS: Right.

BG: And that's what they been fobbed off on. Well they were beginning to get angry.

MS: And they called you in?

BG: They wanted to do something in the more activist line against the police and this kind of activity in Philadelphia. And they realized that they were having to get permission from headquarters in San Francisco, from the Daughters of Bilitis headquarters, for just about everything they wanted to do. Not only that, but at the time, there was a national election going on in DOB and the local chapter in Philadelphia was being inundated with election material. With no interest being shown in the local problem that had galvanized all the women who were in the chapter in Philadelphia. And finally, they were saying, "What are we doing in this organization. So let's split." And they disbanded the chapter.

KL: I think they were friendly towards the men, too, in the community.

MS: Wanted to work with them.

KL: Perhaps wanted to have a mixed group at the time.

BG: Clark may even have been involved, if he was still around at the time.

KL: No.

BG: No?

MS: I don't have a note about that.

BG: Because the little office that they had was on 17th Street.

MS: Hmm. I think they did share an office.

BG: They did share an office with some other group. And I'm not sure, but Clark may still have been a shadowy figure.

KL: I'm sure he encouraged them to fight their fight.

BG: But these women, their temperament was such that they didn't need that much encouragement. They got some, but they didn't really need it. They were mad.

MS: Mmhmm.

BG: And they wanted to do something and they had the brains to do something, but they felt they were being held back in Daughters of Bilitis. This was not the forum to do it. So they disbanded the Philadelphia chapter and formed this new organization called Homophile Action League. And it was to be open to both men and women. And it was to be an activist organization.

MS: Did they succeed in attracting men?

BG: Finally, yes. Obviously, being started by women only, it was all female for awhile. But as they held public forums on major issues and leafleted heavily in the bars, including the men's bars, they began to attract men who came.

KL: Well they had some at the outset who must have felt an interest in their cause.

BG: They didn't join at the outset.

KL: Jerry.

MS: Jerry Curtis?

BG: Yeah, Jerry Curtis.

KL: He was very good looking and sort of into leather.

BG: Well the Homophile Action League had a lot of success.

KL: He was with them and he was very butch. Have you talked to him?

MS: No I haven't. Is he still around?

BG: I have no idea.

KL: I don't know if he's alive or what.

BG: We don't know. I haven't been in touch with him for years. But he was really active.

KL: Wasn't he on the river in one of the barges or one of the gatesmen for the things that go up, the drawbridges.

BG: He had some kind of real offbeat job, yes. And he was involved.

KL: And Harry Langhorne was around in those days and other assorted men. Tom Wilson might have been.

MS: I think they came on the scene in the early '70s when HAL was still around.

BG: The H. A. L. did finally get an office in a building on Arch Street.

MS: So you were, in this period, pretty active locally?

BG: Well I was active with H. A. L., yes, because this was my kind of group. It was both men and women. It was activist.

KL: Yeah, I remember wanting to encourage them.

MS: And your sense was that relations were pretty good between men and women?

BG: Well the people who had started it included Ada Bello and Carole Friedman. And they were no slouches when it came to planning what could be done. But I found this a very congenial environment, a very congenial setting. So I was active in H. A. L. for quite some time.

MS: Were there tensions at first when the men and women began working together?

BG: I don't remember any.

KL: I don't think so.

BG: I don't remember any. We had a mission and we were going to do this and we needed all hands on board. I don't remember any significant tensions. I remember Jerry Curtis was involved in the zap of then-candidate for governor Milton Schapp, when he spoke at a candidates' night at the University Museum Auditorium. And I guess, liberal as he was, he didn't come on strong enough on the gay issue. And one of our women members, Marilyn Sours, and Jerry Curtis got up on the stage toward the end, when the meeting was breaking up, and they nabbed him before he could get away from the podium and they really gave it to him.

KL: I forgot all that.

Barbara Gittings, Philadelphia Pride 1972

Barbara Gittings at Philadelphia gay and lesbian pride event, 1972. Photo courtesy Kay Tobin Lahusen.

MS: Well maybe I'll jump ahead since I don't want to keep you past midnight.

BG: We can also talk later at some other time if you want to.

MS: That would be great. Well maybe I'll finish off, then, with a general question.

BG: O.K.

MS: I'll start off with a reference to an interview that took place or a session that took place in Chicago with you in 1974 in a Women's Center. And it ended up being published in a newspaper called Lavender Woman.

BG: Yes.

MS: And it sounded like a very heated exchange and it might capture some of the flavor of the changes of the early '70s because it was described as a stormy rap session. And you're quoted as saying, "I make no apology for working with gay men to educate the straight public. Dammit, someone has to do it. You can work if you choose within the community of your choice, but don't put down other people who choose a different kind of work." And then one of the women there responded to you, saying, "I'm upset because you are working with men and spending energy on the straight public. We need each other. Nobody is going to take care of lesbians but lesbians." And you respond, "That's not true. Where it's a gay issue, men can be very helpful." And it goes on.

BG: That sounds like what I'd say.

MS: It goes on and on that way.

BG: I vaguely remember that. I don't remember the circumstances that took me there.

MS: It does say this actually. You were there for a meeting with educators.

BG: I was there on a speaking engagement?

MS: For a conference of educators about gay issues on campus.

BG: One of the national student association gatherings?

KL: No.

BG: Oh wait a minute. It's beginning to come up to me. Some outfit in Chicago had sponsored a day long or two-day long conference on gay issues.

MS: I'm interested more in the general tenor.

BG: I can maybe dig up some material. I'd been invited to be one of the speakers or to run workshops or both. And since I was in Chicago, I called on people. I've known people in Chicago for years and years. And I suppose they said, "Look, Lavender Woman is a going concern. They're doing good work. Go down and talk with them." And maybe this is what came out of it.

MS: I'm interested more in the general tenor of the time, because obviously that moment was a far cry from the cooperation that you were describing in HAL in the late '60s.

BG: In my mind, I have always characterized the '70s in our movement as the time of greatest separatism, which I never took part in and always opposed. But yes, to me the '70s were the time of the maximum separatism.

MS: And that must have been difficult for you.

BG: And I guess I got it full blast at this particular meeting in Chicago. But I had no patience with those who said that women, as women, have to stick together because frankly most women don't care about lesbians. And they're not going to do a damned thing about lesbian issues. I'm sure I must have made my feelings pretty clear about that. That the gay issues cross the gender line and the women's issues, I don't have any interest in. I couldn't care less about day care and abortion rights and the other things that women were concerned about. I don't know what the issues were at the time. I don't even know whether day care was on the agenda.

MS: Did that split become big in Philadelphia?

BG: What? The gender split?

MS: The separatist movement. Because, again, Philadelphia is not one of those cities that comes through as a...

KL: No, Philadelphia fell apart.

MS: There was a short-lived Radicalesbians group, but it only lasted a very short time.

BG: There was a Gay Liberation Front. It didn't last terribly long, did it?

MS: GAA lasted for quite a few years and seemed to have done a lot of things. And I know there was an important election where a woman named Jan Welch became president of the local NOW. She was a lesbian.

BG: I remember her.

MS: You do?

BG: Yes. Yes, I remember her.

MS: But I'm curious about whether Philadelphia was more or less separatist than other places. Maybe you may not be the right people to ask if you weren't participating in that.

BG: My crudest sense of it is less, maybe.

MS: Less.

BG: It seems to me I experienced more of it in New York and other places. Again, it is more of an urban luxury. Because they had so many groups going in New York, they could afford to pull apart and try to do things separate. But I think what I really minded most about the separatism was not that some lesbians went off and tried to live a separate life, but that they came around and made trouble for those of us who didn't see it their way.

MS: Mmhmm.

BG: This came up, for example, at Gay Academic Union conferences in the first few years of that organization's existence.

MS: Locally or in New York?

BG: In New York. I don't know that there was any problem in the local GAU. That came a few years later, but certainly there were troubles in the conferences that were held in New York. In fact I was asked to speak at one of the GAU early conferences. And I said, "I think it's dreadful that we come to this with a feeling that it's as though we came from different planets and could hardly speak with each other."

KL: The men and women?

BG: Well a lot of women didn't like what I said, but some did. And a lot of the men were very appreciative because they didn't like all this stormy upheaval that the women were creating. That wasn't the only issue. There was also a major issue of leftist takeover. It's another subject, but it is kind of tied in with it.

MS: Right.

BG: Well maybe going back a few years earlier, maybe I'll make this my last question. Right after Stonewall, I know there was a big movement conference in Philadelphia, ERCHO. And it was at that conference that GLF and GAA came down from New York.

BG: Yes. And one of the big GLF yo-yos.

KL: That was really amusing. They said, "Where are your women? Where are your Blacks? Where are your American Indians?" And they had all of them here already.

BG: He didn't know. He just didn't know.

KL: We had an American Indian, Becky Irons.

BG: He came down from New York with his rhetoric, with his radical rhetoric, to assail us for not being politically correct. And here are the members of Homophile Action League, which is mainly women at the time and includes some Hispanics and American Indians.

KL: All those Cubans. All those flaming Cubans who were there.

BG: And there were Blacks. And he said: "Where are your Blacks, where are your women, where are your Native Americans?"

KL: "Where are your Hispanics?"

BG: And they were already there in the room.

MS: So it was pretty empty criticism.

KL: Oh the amount of guilt tripping that went on and the harangues over political correctness.

BG: He was the one with what we called the million dollar boots, the radical with the million dollar leather boots. Where did he get the money? Where did he get the money to dress so elegantly when he came around to the meetings and chewed us all out for not being as leftist as he was.

KL: We were all the Philadelphia dowdies.

MS: So at that conference, it wasn't so much a gender conflict coming from feminism. That I guess was a little bit later. This was more, it sounds like, a conflict coming from the left.

BG: Oh yes. Oh they spent years in the '70s trying to guilt trip us. That we should do this and we should think that. Well this isn't really relevant to Philadelphia, but when Gay Liberation Front first got launched in New York, in the wake of Stonewall, it got out the gay troops to picket at the Women's House of Detention for the women who were in there for prostitution. Naturally, they're political prisoners. And to picket for the Black Panthers who were being given a real hard time by the law at that time. But they weren't getting us out for our own cause. Not as much, in any rate. And certainly the women weren't coming out to the House of D and the Black Panthers weren't coming around to support us. And that was part of the reason that the Gay Activists' Alliance was founded in New York, because some of our people said, "Look, I'm going out to picket for the Blacks and I'm going out to picket for the women, but who's doing it for us?"

MS: Right.

BG: We ought to be doing it for ourselves, because no one else is going to do it for us. We are the last minority, I think. We are the ultimate pariahs. We're the least popular. And we cannot expect other people to do the fight for us.

MS: Well in this context were you in favor of ending the pickets at Independence Hall. It was after Stonewall.

BG: I guess the handwriting was on the wall that their time was up. They'd served a wonderful purpose. They'd gone on for five years. They'd been effective. They'd done a lot for the community, but the time was up. It was time to move on to something else.

MS: So you didn't really fight for it at that conference.

BG: Probably felt a little twinge of regret, but not much more.

MS: Always looking forward.

BG: Well I don't know whether we talked at that conference about trying to resume the pickets, but possibly, if there was such talk, it might have been something of a different nature, a demonstration of a different kind.

MS: Right.

KL: I think in a way we found ourselves in the old guard. The way the West Coast people must have felt when we were jumping up and down with the activists here and they felt sort of left behind or left in the dust for a little while.

MS: Well Ada Bello talks about HAL as being a sort of bridge between the older activists and the younger activists.

BG: Mmhmm.

MS: She at least felt that way, that it was maybe the one group that existed before Stonewall that could speak to the GLF and the GAA.

KL: Right.

MS: So that was what your experience was?

BG: Yes, yes.

KL: But I know when they talked about a mass march in New York, I sort of felt some misgivings. And yet really I wanted to do it. I think I just didn't like the GLF influence on it, because I was heavily involved at the time with GAA.

BG: But H. A. L. produced a great contingent and a wonderful banner for that very first Christopher Street March in New York.

MS: Right.

BG: There's a wonderful photo of that. And we really turned out. We sent something like fifteen people from Philadelphia, which was a sizeable number.

MS: Yes.

BG: And of course we didn't know what was going to happen. This was the very first ever major march.

KL: Everyone was a little afraid that there might be violence, but of course some early picketers felt that way on the little picket lines in Washington, too.

BG: Yes, but this was on a different scale. This was going up Sixth Avenue and you weren't staying in one place.

MS: And GLF was running it.

BG: Well they weren't running it that much. And I think most of us started out feeling a little bit exhilarated and apprehensive at the same time at the beginning of the day and exhilarated only at the end.

KL: The GLF people were in the planning sessions.

BG: But they weren't the only ones at that point.

MS: Well thanks so much for this. I hope you'll let me take you up on your offer to talk some more.

BG: Yes, yes.