Barbara Gittings was born in Vienna, Austria where her father worked as a U.S. diplomat. When World War II started, the family returned to the U.S. and lived in Wilmington, Delaware. Gittings first taste of homophobia came when, even though she was a top student, she was rejected from the National Honor Society. The teacher said it was due to Gittings’ homosexual inclinations. Gittings struggled with her sexuality while studying drama at Northwestern University and soon had to return home, flunking out of school. She searched for information through libraries and books on the subject of sexuality, but found very little, especially dealing with lesbians.
At 18, she left home and moved to Philadelphia. On weekends she hitchhiked to New York City and dressed as a man because she believed at the time going in drag was a way to show that she was gay. In 1958, while still commuting to the Big Apple on weekends, Gittings started a Daughters of Bilitis (DOB) chapter in New York City. DOB, which at the time only had a San Francisco chapter, was the first lesbian rights organization in the United States. Gittings edited The Ladder, DOB’s national magazine, from 1963 to 1966.
During the 70s, Gittings helped form the first gay caucus in an organization, the American Library Association. Her main focus was to place positive homosexual information and literature in libraries, something she lacked during her coming out process. In 1972, she was a major voice in the movement to get the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from the list of disorders. Gittings received numerous honors including a lifetime membership to the American Library Association and an award named in her honor by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. Gittings passed away from breast cancer at the age of 74. Fun fact: In 2007, The Advocate readers named Gittings one of their 40 favorite gay and lesbian heroes.