Barbara Gittings, that lady in the “hug a homosexual” booth

Just a photo that came across my stream, taken for Life magazine but not published there. This is from ALA, in 1971. I saw the photo and wanted to know more about it.

As a former member of SRRT and someone who knew about early GLBT activities within ALA (and in the current political climate) from reading Revolting Librarians, I enjoyed seeing this photo but I had a lot of questions. Who were these people? Who planned this? How was it received? So, like any good librarian, I researched.

Some other folks on facebook filled in some of the blanks about this event. A quote from another librarian, pulled form a relative who commented on his timeline “ALA’s Gay and Lesbian Task Force was the first such professional organization in the country. And with their bibliographies they helped create new areas of research.” A few more photos of the SRRT booth are at NYPL.

The two women are identified as Barbara Gittings and Alma Routsong better known by her pen name Isabel Miller and were well known activists of the time. Israel Fishman the founder of SRRTs Task Force on Gay Liberation (later to be called the Gay Task force and splitting off to what is now its own round table, the GLBTRT) was the one who planned the stunt. Other reports of this booth activity come from unlikely places such as the neighboring booth where RUSA (then known as Reference and Adult Services Division) was located. Their history page reports…

Plans for the division’s booth in the ALA Professional Exhibit area at the 1971 ALA Conference in Dallas included scheduling different board members to be on-hand to meet with visitors. When the “Hug a Homosexual” and other exuberant and high-spirited activities in a neighboring booth proved newsworthy to the extent that television cameras appeared and reports were broadcast nationwide, an on-hand board member from a conservative community shielded his face and moved to the remote side of the booth. At another point, when the RSD booth was staffed by a librarian clad in the habit of her religious order, a young volunteer who was intimidated by the boisterous goings-on in her booth came next door seeking “sanctuary.” According to American Libraries, “Farcical tumult reigned in the exhibit area when the Gay Lib group staged a ‘Hug-A-Homosexual’ stunt that attracted press and television but few hugs.

Library Journal tumblrblogged this last June and noted

For those that are interested, the booth received a (predictably) mostly negative reaction, with little to no people stopping by for a free hug. So the staffers of the booth hugged and kissed each other. Gittings kissed Patience and Sarah author Alma Routsong (aka Isabel Miller) while cameras were rolling and made the nightly news. That same year she appeared with a panel of lesbians on the David Susskind Show to debunk gay stereotypes of the time. She was approached in a supermarket a week after the appearance by a middle-aged couple who claimed “You made me realize that you gay people love each other just the way Arnold and I do.”

The book Before Stonewall has called this event “The first gay kissing booth” and is worth reading for more great stories about what a nifty person Gittings was and what sort of work she did within ALA. Here is a quotation from a blog post after her death in2007 discussing what drew her to librarianship.

One of Gittings’ proudest achievements was what she called “combatting lies in the library.” Gittings had experienced her first attractions to women when she was in high school. She was denied membership in the National Honor Society by an advisor who said she had “homosexual tendencies,” and had been told by her father, with whom she was close, to destroy the book The Well of Loneliness which he found in her bedroom when she was in high school. Determined to understand her own path, she spent most of her freshman year at Northwestern University in the library instead of in class, searching for books and information about being a lesbian. What little she could find was catalogued under “sexual perversion” and “sexual deviance.” She dropped out of Northwestern then to pursue the life of an activist and never returned to get her degree.

There are many more anecdotes and names named in Wayne Wiegand’s Encyclopedia of Library History. I know for people who are more on the inside of this movement a lot of this is just old news, but I hadn’t known a lot of this before. And, at this time in history with some important cases before the Supreme Court and public opinion rapidly shifting, it’s neat to look back and see at least part of the profession taking an early and affirmative stand for equality.

oh Library of Congress, I am sorry you are not leading the way

Erica says it better than I can — regarding the discrimination lawsuit the Library of Congress lost because it rescinded a job offer from a hired applicant who disclosed that he was transitioning into becoming a woman — “Hey, Library of Congress. Cut that shit out.” Thanks to the wonders of YouTube you can hear Diane Schroer herself talking about transgender discrimination.

good news in Oklahoma, for now

State bill HB 2158 did not go to the state Senate. It passed in the House and the Senate did decide to hold a hearing on it. This is the bill to deny state funding to libraries that did not comply with a directive to restrict access to books with sexually explicit passages and homosexual themes to “adults only”. More information about Oklahoma libraries can be found on the librarystories blog and more generally at the Oklahoma Library Association website. Also, check out all these other Oklahoma library blogs (taken from the librarystories’ sidebar).

Adventures of a curious mind
Bartlesville Public Library blog
Karl the YoYo Librarian
Law Librarian Blog
Library Shrine
McAlester Public Library
Oklahoma Library Tech News
Oklahoma Writing Project
Orange Splot
Reading Oklahoma
SWOSU Library Blog
Slacker Librarian
Western Plains Libraries

In case you thought it wasn’t happening – GLBT proscription

The Left2Right blog discusses Hillsborough County [FL] and their legislation requiring that government agencies — including the West Gate library — “abstain from acknowledging, promoting, and participating in Gay Pride recognition and events”

[M]andated silence on the topic seems antithetical to what libraries are about. Libraries are for learning stuff, and displays don’t have to take sides. That’s why I say proponents and opponents of gay rights alike ought to agree that the county blew it, in a big, bad, awful way. The real divide here is between those fond of vibrant democratic debate and those opposed to it. So I’d let the library mount a display airing all sides of the dispute. Indeed, I’d encourage them to. Precisely because there is ongoing controversy about gay rights, and because we think (don’t we?) that both sides have legitimate views, no reasonable observer would take a library exhibit’s inclusion of critics of gay rights as silently scornful. The county’s measure makes it seem like they think the very topic of gay pride is unspeakable, indecent — something that must remain deeply closeted. That position, and not any measured view on gay marriage or civil unions or antidiscrimination laws, is reprehensible.

some ALA resolution information

Rory includes the full text of the Iraq resolution that passed through ALA Council this past session. He’s also included the Resolution on Disinformation & Media Manipulation and the Destruction of Public Information and the Resolution on Threats to Library Materials Related to Sex, Gender Identity, or Sexual Orientation. Remember, ALA isn’t a legislative body and so these resolutions are, at best, statements of good intentions, position papers if you will. If any of these resolutions [and I'll be trying to find the text of the rest of them this week] are applicable to your library situation, feel free to print them out and tell whoever needs to know “The largest library association in the world thinks this is important” James Casey who serves with me on Council and always distributed his post-Council reports widely, had this to say about the importance of wide-ranging resolutions.

Discussions were intense and substantive (most of the time), but there was a surprising tendency in this session for the Councilors not to worry about straying from “Library Issues”. In fact, I don’t recall hearing that term : “This is not a Library issue.” even once from the floor of Council during the whole of this Conference. There was a clearer connection in the minds of Councilors — at least in my own mind — how the manipulation, destruction and spinning of information can result in wars, ecological disasters and other calamities that were previously thought best to be left to the “experts” who supposedly run our government on our behalf. Librarians who believe in the value and importance of access to accurate and truthful information may come to view government actions predicated upon an endless tapestry of lies and misinformation, to be a matter relevant to their professional concerns. Instead of a “leftward tilt” on Council evident, I detected more of a realization that what you don’t know — or aren’t allowed to know — can literally kill you and a lot of other folks as well.

Library Of Congress subject of sex discrimination lawsuit

David, now Diane, Schroer had been hired as a terrorism research analyst at the Congressional Research Service. When she told her soon to be boss she would be undergoing surgery to change genders, her job offer was rescinded. Diana and the ACLU have filed a lawsuit against the Library of Congress. [thanks kate]