Kay Tobin Lahusen, pioneer lesbian photographer, gone at 91
After a lifetime of pioneering lesbian and gay rights and capturing the LGBTQ movement’s early days with her camera, Kay Tobin Lahusen has died at the age of 91.
Lahusen has now followed her long time partner, the late activist Barbara Gittings, who died in 2007.
Lahusen, who recorded the images of some of the first LGBTQ equality protests in the US, was suffering from an illness when she died at Chester County Hospital outside Philadelphia.
Remembering Kay Tobin Lahusen
Lahusen is known as the first US photojournalist who was out as a lesbian.
But she was also a pioneering lesbian and gay rights activist together with her partner, Gittings. The couple advocated for gay and lesbian civil rights even before the 1969 Stonewall riot in New York City.
Mark Segal, a friend of hers and the founder and publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News told the Associated Press: “Practically every photo we have of that time is from Kay.”
Segal described Kay as “the first photojournalist in our community.”
Another friend, Judith Armstrong, said: “The history is there and the history she definitely wanted to be preserved… She wanted the story to be out there.”
Marcia M. Gallo, a social movement historian and author, said Lahusen was “one of the key foundational organizers and chroniclers of the LGBTQ movement from the ’60s on.”
Kay Tobin Lahusen on the scene
Lahusen had a series of photographs of gay and lesbian rights demonstrations taken in front of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall every July 4 from 1965 to 1969.
Likewise, she had photographed the LGBTQ protests at the White House and the Pentagon in the 1960s, including a meeting of the National Council of Churches.
She also participated in the protests by carrying signs that read: “First Class Citizenship for Homosexuals” and “End Official Persecution of Homosexuals.”
Meanwhile, as a founding member of the Gay Activists Alliance, Lahusen took pictures of their protests, taking part in Philadelphia’s first gay pride march in 1972.
More importantly, she convinced lesbians to let their faces be seen in photographs to show the world that lesbians are people, too.
She said during a 1993 interview that it was her way of “taking our minority out from under wraps, and what you might call the normalization of gay.”
Recording the historical movement
But Lahusen was more than a photographer as she co-authored a book, “The Gay Crusaders,” under the pseudonym Kay Tobin in 1972. The book detailed the protest movement’s early leaders.
Under the same pseudonym, she was also the arts editor for The Ladder, the publication of the Daughters of Bilitis, the first known lesbian organization in the US. (Gittings founded the East Coast chapter of the group.)
Together with Gittings and Frank Kameny, they lobbied the the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses.
When Gittings died in 2007, she spent her remaining years in a retirement home in Kennett Square where she gave interviews and maintained Gittings’ legacy.
“Occasionally somebody would bring a camera to a picket, but I was the only one who went at it in a sustained way,” Lahusen said in an interview in 2019.
Presently, the New York Public Library’s archive has an extensive collection of Lahusen’s photographs. These were a major part of the 2019 exhibition of Stonewall’s 50th anniversary, “Love & Resistance: Stonewall 50.”