Kay Lahusen

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Kay Lahusen
Color photo of smiling older white woman with short white hair, wearing a green turtleneck and brown cardigan with gold chains; she is standing in front of four framed black-and-white images against a taupe wall
Lahusen in 2001, in front of her images on The Ladder
Born
Katherine Lahusen

January 5, 1930
DiedMay 26, 2021(2021-05-26) (aged 91)
Other namesKay Tobin
Kay Tobin Lahusen
OccupationPhotographer, activist, writer, real estate agent
OrganizationCo-founder, Gay Activists Alliance (GAA)
Partner(s)Barbara Gittings (1961–2007)

Katherine Lahusen (also known as Kay Tobin; January 5, 1930 – May 26, 2021) was an American photographer, writer and gay rights activist. She was the first openly lesbian American photojournalist.[1] Under Lahusen's art direction, photographs of lesbians appeared on the cover of The Ladder for the first time. It was one of many projects she undertook with partner Barbara Gittings, who was then The Ladder's editor. As an activist, Lahusen was involved with the founding of the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) in 1970 and the removal of homosexuality from the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). She contributed writing and photographs to a New York–based Gay Newsweekly, and co-authored two books: The Gay Crusaders in 1972 with Randy Wicker (under her pen name Kay Tobin) and Love and Resistance: Out of the Closet into the Stonewall Era, collecting their photographs with Diana Davies in 2019.

Early life[edit]

Katherine Lahusen was born on January 5, 1930 in Cincinnati, Ohio. She was brought up by her grandparents, George and Katherine (Walker) Lahusen.[2] She developed her interest in photography as a child. "Even as a kid I liked using a little box camera and pushing it and trying to get something artsy out of it", she recalled.[3] She attended Withrow High School, graduating in 1948.[2] As a teenager she noticed her attraction to women, via crushes on stars like Katharine Hepburn, and went to Ohio State University with a girlfriend.[2] Lahusen studied English and planned to become a teacher;[2] meanwhile, the relationship lasted six years. Lahusen graduated in 1952 and they moved in together,[2] but her girlfriend ultimately left "in order to marry and have a normal life", leaving Lahusen devastated by the loss.[3]

Career[edit]

Lahusen spent the next six years in Boston working in the reference library of The Christian Science Monitor. After a psychiatrist specializing in gay clients showed her a copy of the lesbian magazine The Ladder (published by the Daughters of Bilitis), she reached out to the organization[2] and met Barbara Brooks Gittings at a Daughters of Bilitis picnic in 1961.[4][5] They became a couple and Lahusen moved to Philadelphia to be with Gittings.[2] When Gittings took over The Ladder in 1963, Lahusen became art director,[6] and made it a priority to improve the quality of art on the covers. Where previously there were simple line drawings, characterized by Lahusen as "pretty bland, little cats, insipid human figures,"[3] Lahusen began to add photographs of real lesbians on the cover beginning in September 1964. The first showed two women from the back, on a beach looking out to sea. But Lahusen really wanted to add full-face portraits of lesbians. "If you go around as if you don't dare show your face, it sends forth a terrible message", Lahusen remembered.[1]

Several covers showed various women willing to pose in profile, or in sunglasses, but by the mid-1960s Lahusen was able to persuade some women to have their faces shown on the cover, including Lilli Vincenz, who had been discharged from the military when she was outed, and Ernestine Eckstein, an African American lesbian activist who picketed the White House in 1965.[2] By the end of Gittings' period as editor, Lahusen remembered there was a waiting list of women who wanted to be full-face on the cover of the magazine.[3] She wrote articles in The Ladder under the name Kay Tobin, a name she picked out of the phone book, and which she found was easier for people to pronounce.[2]

Lahusen photographed Gittings and other people who picketed federal buildings and Independence Hall in the mid- to late- 1960s.[7] She contributed photographs and articles to a Manhattan newspaper called Gay Newsweekly, and worked in New York City's Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookstore, the first bookstore devoted to better literature on gay themes, and to disseminating materials that promoted a gay political agenda.[8] She worked with Gittings in the gay caucus of the American Library Association, and photographed thousands of activists, marches, and events in the 1960s and 1970s.[9][10] Frank Kameny and Jack Nichols and many other gay activists became her subjects.[11][8]

Lahusen participated in activism via organizing as well as art. In the 1960s she held and photographed "Annual Reminder" pickets in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia on the Fourth of July.[8] In 1970, Lahusen was part of the founding of the original Gay Activists Alliance,[11] and in 1972 worked to push the American Psychological Association (APA) to remove homosexuality from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. As part of the latter, she also photographed John E. Fryer wearing the disguise he donned to protect his reputation when he addressed the APA convention as a gay psychiatrist. Homosexuality was dropped as a diagnosis the following year.[2] Recalling her work from the perspective of 2021, Kevin Jennings, head of Lambda Legal, said, "It is impossible to overstate Kay’s importance in the struggle for LGBT rights and dignity."[12]

Later life[edit]

In the 1980s Lahusen became involved in real estate,[13] and placed ads in gay papers. She also organized agents to get them to march in the New York City Pride March.[8] More recently, her photographs were featured in exhibits at the William Way LGBT Community Center in Philadelphia[14] and the Wilmington Institute Library in Delaware.[15]

In 2007, all of Lahusen's photos and writings and Gittings' papers and writings were donated to the New York Public Library.[16] Lahusen and Gittings were together for 46 years when Gittings died of breast cancer on February 18, 2007, aged 74.[17] Lahusen was working on collecting her photographs for a photography scrapbook on the history of the gay rights movement when Gittings' illness put the plans on hold. In 2015, she collaborated with Tracy Baim who wrote a biography of Gittings called Barbara Gittings, gay pioneer, illustrated with Lahusen’s photographs.[18] The same year, Lahusen appeared on the podium at a Philadelphia event celebrating both the history and future of gay rights, soon after the Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage.[19] In 2019, she and Diana Davies published Love and Resistance: Out of the Closet into the Stonewall Era, collecting their photographs.[11] A review in The Guardian described the collection as "priceless pictures of LGBTQ pioneers".[6]

Until shortly before her death, Lahusen resided in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, in an assisted living facility. She died at Chester County Hospital, Pennsylvania, on May 26, 2021, after a brief illness.[18] She was 91. A plot of land at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C., next to the burial place of Gittings has been allotted to Lahusen.[20][21] The ashes of both will be interred inside a stone bench engraved with the motto they helped popularize: "Gay is good."[12]

Legacy[edit]

In 2016, a historical marker was placed at 21st and Locust Streets in Philadelphia, near the apartment Gittings and Lahusen shared in the 1960s; the marker describes Gittings' work in LGBT rights in Philadelphia.[22][23] Two episodes from the podcast Making Gay History feature Lahusen and Gittings,[24][25] and a bonus episode of that podcast is about Lahusen's monthly dinner meetings with other gay people.[26]

Books[edit]

  • The Gay Crusaders, as Kay Tobin, with Randy Wicker (1972)
  • Love and Resistance: Out of the Closet into the Stonewall Era, collecting their photographs, with Diana Davies (2019)

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Riordan, Kevin (Fall 2001). "Together they sparked a movement: Gay Pioneers Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin Lahusen reflect on their 40-year political—and personal—partnership". Visions Today; pp. 17–19, 38
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Slotnik, Daniel E. (May 27, 2021). "Kay Tobin Lahusen, Gay Rights Activist and Photographer, Dies at 91". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on May 28, 2021. Retrieved May 28, 2021.
  3. ^ a b c d Corinne, Tee (Winter 2005-2006). "Kay Tobin Lahusen: Photographer as Activist". Sinister Wisdom 66 pp. 64–68
  4. ^ "Kay Lahusen, September 29, 1993". Outhistory.org. September 29, 1993. Archived from the original on August 23, 2014. Retrieved May 28, 2021.
  5. ^ "Gay rights pioneer and photojournalist Kay Tobin Lahusen dies at 91". NBC News. Archived from the original on May 28, 2021. Retrieved May 28, 2021.
  6. ^ a b Kaiser, Charles (June 30, 2019). "Love and Resistance review: priceless pictures of LGBTQ pioneers". The Guardian. Retrieved May 29, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  7. ^ Bartlett, Chris (June 9, 2019). "Before Stonewall, Philadelphia pride". The Philadelphia Inquirer. pp. C1. Archived from the original on May 28, 2021. Retrieved May 28, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  8. ^ a b c d "Meet America's first openly lesbian photojournalist". PinkNews. April 3, 2018. Archived from the original on January 20, 2021. Retrieved May 28, 2021.
  9. ^ Lotozo, Eils (May 2, 2001). "Documenting Phila. Role in Gay Rights (continued)". The Philadelphia Inquirer. p. 14. Archived from the original on May 28, 2021. Retrieved May 28, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  10. ^ Rubinkam, Michael (May 27, 2021). "Kay Lahusen, photojournalist and LGBTQ rights pioneer, dies at 91". USA Today. Archived from the original on May 28, 2021. Retrieved May 28, 2021.
  11. ^ a b c Bedwell, Michael (May 27, 2021). "Legendary gay rights pioneer Kay Lahusen passes at 91". LGBTQ Nation. Archived from the original on May 28, 2021. Retrieved May 28, 2021.
  12. ^ a b Giordano, Rita. "Kay Lahusen, nationally esteemed gay rights activist and photojournalist, dies at 91". Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved May 29, 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  13. ^ "People: Newly Aboard". Philadelphia Daily News. April 8, 1987. p. 32. Archived from the original on May 28, 2021. Retrieved May 28, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  14. ^ Riordan, Kevin (June 9, 2019). "Liberated from the silence". The Philadelphia Inquirer. pp. C4. Archived from the original on May 28, 2021. Retrieved May 28, 2021.
  15. ^ "Museums & Libraries". The News Journal. November 18, 2001. p. 224. Archived from the original on May 28, 2021. Retrieved May 28, 2021.
  16. ^ "Archive of Influential Gay Rights Activists Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin Lahusen acquired by The New York Public Library". Archived from the original on February 7, 2008. Retrieved December 26, 2007. press release, April 25, 2007; retrieved December 26, 2007.
  17. ^ Brown, Robin (February 20, 2007). "Pioneering Gay Rights Advocate Gittings Dies". The News Journal. p. 11. Archived from the original on May 28, 2021. Retrieved May 28, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  18. ^ a b "Kay Lahusen, LGBTQ equality rights pioneer has died at 91". LA Blade. May 26, 2021.
  19. ^ Woodell, Deborah (June 28, 2015). "Gay Rights Weren't Born Just Yesterday". Philadelphia Daily News. p. 5. Archived from the original on May 28, 2021. Retrieved May 28, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  20. ^ O'Bryan, Will (February 17, 2012). "Ceremony set for interment of Kameny's ashes at Congressional Cemetery". Metro Weekly. Archived from the original on February 20, 2012. Retrieved February 23, 2012. 'It's across the path from where Barbara Gittings and her partner, Kay Lahusen, will be interred', [Richard J.] Rosendall says. Gittings, who died in 2007, and Lahusen were longtime activist allies of Kameny. 'It's under a cherry tree, right on the path, easily accessible.'
  21. ^ "Katherine 'Kay' Lahusen, the first openly gay photojournalist, dies at 91". Philadelphia Gay News. May 26, 2021. Retrieved May 28, 2021.
  22. ^ Terruso, Julia (June 1, 2016). "LGBT (continued)". The Philadelphia Inquirer. pp. B04. Retrieved May 28, 2021 – via Newspapers.com.
  23. ^ "Barbara Gittings Residence Historic Marker". Equality Forum. Archived from the original on February 16, 2021. Retrieved May 28, 2021.
  24. ^ "Season One". Making Gay History. Archived from the original on May 12, 2020. Retrieved April 27, 2020.
  25. ^ "Season Two". Making Gay History. Archived from the original on May 12, 2020. Retrieved April 27, 2020.
  26. ^ "Bonus Episodes". Making Gay History. June 22, 2018. Archived from the original on May 12, 2020. Retrieved April 27, 2020.

External links[edit]