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From very early on, Kay Lahusen loved sports, and taking pictures with her box camera. So it’s not surprising that she went on to become the first openly lesbian photojournalist of the LGBTQ movement.

Born into a middle-class Cincinnati family in 1930, Kay graduated from college in 1952, and moved to Boston to work in the reference library for the Christian Science Monitor. Although she had already had dalliances with women, she took on homosexuality as a research topic, finally discovering the magazine The Ladder, a publication of the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB). Through the DOB, Kay met Barbara Gittings. During their 46 years together, Kay and Barbara became two of the most influential activists in the early LGBTQ movement. 

Out of cowardice, shame or discretion, The Ladder in those days either had no cover art, or only showed artistic renderings and disguised photos of women. Kay decided that was bunk. In January 1966, Ladder readers were greeted by a photograph of a smiling Lilli Vincenz on its cover.

Through the 1960s and ‘70s, Kay photographed countless other activists, demonstrations, and marches of the LGBTQ movement, helped found the Gay Activists Alliance, and in 1972 co-wrote one of the earliest anthologies of gay activism, The Gay Crusaders (subtitled ‘In-depth interviews with 15 homosexuals – men and women who are shaping America’s newest sexual revolution’). As a team, Kay and Barbara were active in the American Library Association’s Gay Task Force, and were instrumental in persuading the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from its list of psychiatric disorders in 1973. 

In 2007, Barbara passed away. Kay donated their photos, writings and papers to the New York Public Library.

Setting up Kay’s OUTWORDS interview took time. As Kay doesn’t use email, we were advised to send her an old-school letter through the mail. A couple of weeks later, Kay’s response came back, inviting us to call. Eventually, a date was set to interview Kay at the Quaker retirement community she calls home, an hour west of Philadelphia. Surrounded by framed photos from her illustrious career, Kay gave a riveting interview; and in the weeks that followed, she peppered us with names of other early gay activists whose stories were essential to capture. Kay understands journalism, she understands history, and she understands how small, determined steps can add up to a revolution. 
Peter Lien: [00:00:00] Okay. We're rolling.
Betsy Kalin: Great. Kay, first, can you just say your name, your date of birth, and where you were born?
Kay Lahusen: I'm Kay Tobin Lahusen. I was born in 1930. What was the other one?
Betsy Kalin: And where?
Kay Lahusen: [00:00:30] In Cincinnati, Ohio.
Betsy Kalin: Great. Thank you. And always look at me. Just pretend that the camera ...
Kay Lahusen: Okay.
Betsy Kalin: Isn't here.
Kay Lahusen: Okay.
Betsy Kalin: And so, why don't you tell me about The Ladder and your involvement?
Kay Lahusen: Oh, I'm prepared to talk about the pictures.
Betsy Kalin: Well, start with the pictures, then. Why don't you tell me about some of your pictures?
Kay Lahusen: The picture that's on this end is of Frank Kameny leading the picket line at Independence Hall in 1965.
Betsy Kalin: [00:01:00] We have to just stop for a minute because they're dragging a cart along the hall and it's really loud.
Kay Lahusen: Oh. Okay. Start again?
Betsy Kalin: Yeah. We'll wait until they go away. Okay, so yeah, start again talking about Frank.
Kay Lahusen: Ready?
Peter Lien: Yep.
Kay Lahusen: The first picture in the pickets here, on this end, is of Frank Kameny leading
Kay Lahusen: [00:01:30] the picket line at Independence Hall in Philadelphia in 1965. The top picture is of our picket, gay picket, at the Pentagon. There were 30 of us, and after the picket, I asked them to pose for a group photo. Some had already left
Kay Lahusen: [00:02:00] and Frank and Barbara weren't in. They were handling the press that appeared. But anyway, the little group picture ...
Betsy Kalin: I'm gonna just stop you for one second. Something just turned on.
Peter Lien: It's the fridge.
Betsy Kalin: Is there a fridge in here?
Kay Lahusen: No.
Peter Lien: There was something. Just went off.
Betsy Kalin: [00:02:30] All right.
Kay Lahusen: I can't think what it is that turned on, but it could be my slight air ... I don't know what it is.
Betsy Kalin: It's a weird ...
Peter Lien: Go ahead, Kay, talk.
Kay Lahusen: Okay. That's a picture of those remaining after the picket for the sake of a group photo.
Kay Lahusen: [00:03:00] You notice some people had sunglasses on. I often wore sunglasses because it was sunny, but some people wore them because they did ... Wanted to conceal their appearance a little bit. It's a shame they felt that way, but that's the way it was 1965. And you see the predominance of men. That, too, was the way it was in 1965.
Kay Lahusen: [00:03:30] The picture on this end is my friend, my life partner, Barbara Gittings. That picture is now sort of famous. It's in a number of books. Behind her is Randy Wicker, who was, I think, just about the first gay person to propose picketing.
Kay Lahusen: [00:04:00] Anyway, that's a favorite picture of everybody, it seems.
Betsy Kalin: Why were you drawn to photography? Why was that interesting to you?
Kay Lahusen: I was interested as a kid before I ever had a notion I was gay. I just loved to take pictures with little cameras. By the way, I never had an expensive camera. When you're dealing with a group of people,
Kay Lahusen: [00:04:30] you just can't expect them all to hold still while you fiddle with your camera, and you have to just shoot on the run. So, I always had inexpensive cameras. All I brought to photography was my own love of photography and love of my subject matter.
Betsy Kalin: When you were involved in the organizing,
Betsy Kalin: [00:05:00] did someone say to you, Kay, you need to be there at this march and take pictures?
Kay Lahusen: Oh, no. We knew all about the plans for the marches. We were in on them from the very beginning, and it was just something we wanted to do, whether we were photographing or not. I never thought of these pictures as being terribly significant, but
Kay Lahusen: [00:05:30] I hoped they might be someday, and apparently they are. Some are in the Smithsonian, and New York Public Library has 500 of my pictures. It's very gratifying to still have these pictures. By the way, I'm seldom in the line because I'm always behind the camera. I would jump in the line, picket a while, get back out, get behind the camera.
Kay Lahusen: [00:06:00] But this is one of the few pictures of me. I think there are two or three of me, but over on this end on the bookcase there, you'll see me picketing at, I think it was always Independence Hall. We picketed both in Washington and Philadelphia. So, anyway, there I am, finally, in front of the camera.
Betsy Kalin: [00:06:30] After you were at an event and you developed the pictures, where would you go to develop them? Didn't you have to be careful?
Kay Lahusen: No, no. Not really. I went to a sort of a professional developing place and they took it in stride. They probably thought I was sort of weird and unusual, but anyway, it worked out.
Betsy Kalin: When did you start working for Gay Newspaper?
Kay Lahusen: [00:07:00] That was out of New York, so that was a later date. Later than these pictures. That was in the '70s, I believe. And my friend, Jack Nichols, who's in the group photo back here at the Pentagon, he started Gay Newspaper in New York City. I told him we should start a paper here.
Kay Lahusen: [00:07:30] Jack, let's go edit it together. We had a source for financing, and so we were going to do it, but I backed out. I just knew I didn't want to meet all those deadlines and have to work on that. He found another co-editor, his life partner, Lige Clark. Lige stands for Elijah, his name. They did it together.
Kay Lahusen: [00:08:00] This paper took off in Manhattan and was very, very popular. They sold a heck of a lot, which they turned over to their backer, mostly.
Betsy Kalin: This is great. I was gonna pause one second. I need to tell him to whisper.
Betsy Kalin: [00:08:30] They didn't know they had to be quiet.
Kay Lahusen: Anyway, I did a little writing for Gay Newspaper. Not a whole lot. But I was definitely on the fringes.
Betsy Kalin: [00:09:00] When you were taking these pictures in the '60s, where did you publish them? Where did people get to see your pictures?
Kay Lahusen: Finally, we put a couple on front covers of The Ladder, and that was definitely a breakthrough. I think we had one at the Civil Service Commission, and we had a minister in the line with his clerical collar, which was really a breakthrough.
Kay Lahusen: [00:09:30] And Lilli Vincenz was leading the line and she was one of the lesbian activists in Washington, DC. She since turned out to be a videographer of early marches, so it's too bad you can't film her now, but she did a lot to capture those images.
Betsy Kalin: [00:10:00] I was wondering if you could talk about trying to get actual lesbians on the cover of The Ladder.
Kay Lahusen: Oh, yes. We always wanted to have lesbians on the cover, but initially, we published a picture of a lesbian in England, and then someone sent us her picture from Indonesia. We put her on the cover, with their permission, of course.
Kay Lahusen: [00:10:30] We had a couple with full face, but as for lesbians here, we had to, first of all, sometimes put them back to camera or in profile. Anyway, it was just very difficult. But bit by bit, when they saw our picket lines and some women
Kay Lahusen: [00:11:00] in the picket lines, they decided it's time, and they stepped in as cover subjects on The Ladder.
Betsy Kalin: Can you describe when you were doing that shoot, did it feel momentous to you to have ...
Kay Lahusen: No. It felt momentous in the moment that we were having a breakthrough in publishing. We weren't thinking of the future.
Kay Lahusen: [00:11:30] We weren't thinking of archives then. But soon enough, I started to think of archives, and that's been very important in my life, to get stuff in major archives, and they're interested now.
Betsy Kalin: Yeah. I think I mean ... What I've heard is seeing real lesbians on the cover of The Ladder was life changing for so many people.
Kay Lahusen: [00:12:00] Good. I'm sure that a lot of them never wrote, but they felt that way and told their friends.
Betsy Kalin: Did you get more people who were interested after that?
Kay Lahusen: Yes. Some people wanted to be on the cover. We had a line up of people who wanted to be on the cover of The Ladder when we stopped editing. Barbara was the big chief editor.
Betsy Kalin: [00:12:30] That's great. I'm someone who grew up learning about The Ladder and learning about the women who published The Ladder, and for me to talk to you about the early years of that is just incredible. What was it like? What was it like going to work at The Ladder?
Kay Lahusen: Work at The Ladder?
Betsy Kalin: Work for The Ladder.
Kay Lahusen: [00:13:00] I have a picture of Barbara in our efficiency apartment with a typewriter on her lap, typing away. There was no office, there was no workplace. There was in San Francisco, where they did the production, but not in the editor's office, which was her one room efficiency. So what was it like going to the ... Well, we got up and we got to work.
Betsy Kalin: [00:13:30] How did you decide where you were gonna go and take pictures? Was it just other marches that you were gonna go to yourself, or how?
Kay Lahusen: First of all, we were just taking pictures because we were desperate for pictures on our magazine for covers. So, sometimes we would take works of art
Kay Lahusen: [00:14:00] and various statues. Anyway, repeat that question, would you?
Betsy Kalin: How did you decide what photographs you were gonna take?
Kay Lahusen: As soon as we started our activism out in the open as picket lines, we knew we wanted to take pictures, and so we had to go to Washington
Kay Lahusen: [00:14:30] for our first picket lines in front of the White House. And of course we wanted to capture that. So it wasn't hard deciding. We could either decide on a given individual who agreed, or we knew an event was coming up. The events were pickets.
Betsy Kalin: [00:15:00] When you were in DOB, why did you eventually decide to move away from it?
Kay Lahusen: Actually, we were a bit too activist, I think, for the taste of the governing board, and they felt, really, that we were just pushing for too many things that they didn't like,
Kay Lahusen: [00:15:30] particularly. I don't think they saw the importance of the pickets. In any case, it was an agreeable parting of the ways. Not happily, totally, but it worked out. They had someone lined up that they wanted to try out as an editor. When Barbara took that job, it was supposed to be
Kay Lahusen: [00:16:00] only for a few months while they found somebody. As it turned out, it was several years.
Betsy Kalin: I just wanted to see if you could ... She didn't say DOB. Do you think you could just say that when you left DOB, and say the organization's name, because we don't have you saying the name.
Kay Lahusen: Oh. Daughters of Bilitis. DOB, we called it.
Betsy Kalin: [00:16:30] Great. Thank you.
Kay Lahusen: You're not following my dots.
Betsy Kalin: I'm actually following all your dots.
Kay Lahusen: You're not gonna get to all the pictures.
Betsy Kalin: Do you want to start over here?
Kay Lahusen: Well, we should.
Betsy Kalin: Okay.
Kay Lahusen: We can bounce around.
Betsy Kalin: Why don't we talk about the picture you have of Barbara Gittings ...
Kay Lahusen: There's one more picture back here on the bookcase of me
Kay Lahusen: [00:17:00] and Barbara not too long before she died, about a year. It shows Barbara with white hair. This is because she was having chemotherapy and she'd lost her hair and it was coming back in white, so that explains one of those pictures behind me.
Betsy Kalin: What year was that?
Kay Lahusen: [00:17:30] I don't know. In the '70s. She died in 2007. No ... So it would be a few years before then.
Betsy Kalin: Are there any other pictures there that you wanted to talk about?
Kay Lahusen: No.
Betsy Kalin: Then why don't we start with the one of her reading a book?
Kay Lahusen: Can I turn around?
Betsy Kalin: Sure.
Betsy Kalin: [00:18:00] We're rolling. Tell me about the pictures on this wall.
Kay Lahusen: The picture below, here, is Barbara reading a book. This was the first book by someone in the so-called helping professions that was, I would say gay supportive, and didn't take on a position of homosexuality as an illness.
Kay Lahusen: [00:18:30] It's by Dr. George Weinberg in New York. He turned out to be a very good ally of our movement, though he wasn't gay. So, it was a breakthrough book, and I thought it was important to show it here.
Betsy Kalin: And it's a great photograph.
Kay Lahusen: Pretty good.
Betsy Kalin: [00:19:00] What other pictures do you want to talk about?
Kay Lahusen: I can't remember. I can't remember, honestly. That's Frank Kameny.
Betsy Kalin: Back to ... Your knees are my knees. Your knees are on level with mine.
Kay Lahusen: I don't know where you are.That's Frank Kameny holding some papers that are going into the Library of Congress.
Kay Lahusen: [00:19:30] Sure that they had to do with some of his early test cases in Washington. Probably an individual seeking government employment, being turned down, or the director of the civil service turning us down for employment. Anyway, those pictures were taken at a
Kay Lahusen: [00:20:00] celebration of his pictures going into the Library of Congress, and there's something else in the picture, but I can't remember what.
Betsy Kalin: It says first class citizenship for homosexuals.
Kay Lahusen: Is it a picket line? I mean a picket?
Betsy Kalin: No, it's just a poster board. Yeah, with a picket sign.
Kay Lahusen: Oh, okay. That's one of the early picket signs that also went in. Some are in the Smithsonian, too.
Betsy Kalin: [00:20:30] How did you know Frank?
Kay Lahusen: We met him at one of the early movement get togethers when there were only about two or three hundred of us, and I heard him talking, and I said to Barbara, you've got to hear this guy. Come on over. And we heard him and his views and felt that he was really on the
Kay Lahusen: [00:21:00] road to figuring out how to get gay equality and get our movement underway.
Betsy Kalin: Did you work for the same organizations as Frank was in, or were you in different organizations?
Kay Lahusen: No. He was in Washington Mattachine, Washington DC. We were living in Philadelphia, and we sent our copy for The Ladder
Kay Lahusen: [00:21:30] out to San Francisco, and they actually produced the show out there.
Betsy Kalin: Great. Thank you for telling me about that. And then there's a picture of Barbara holding a plaque above her head.
Kay Lahusen: Barbara and Frank were co-recipients of this award given to them by the gay group in the Psychiatric Association,
Kay Lahusen: [00:22:00] and I think by APA itself, though I'm not sure. It was some part of APA or the whole. So, they receive these lovely plaques, and Barbara always thought of the camera, so she put it up over her head and made a nice photo op.
Betsy Kalin: With the AP, I had hear that it was your idea to try and find a gay psychiatrist.
Kay Lahusen: [00:22:30] Yes. I don't think I have his picture on my wall here. Probably I should have. But in any case, we were eager ... We were given the opportunity to be on a panel at APA. It was about ... I forget the title of the panel, even, but they were discussing
Kay Lahusen: [00:23:00] Was homosexuality an illness?, I think. So they had a straight psychiatrist and they had Barbara and Frank as gay activists, but they didn't have anybody who was both a psychiatrist and a gay man. So, anyway, we called a number of people in
Kay Lahusen: [00:23:30] the secret society that was called the Gay PA, a secret society of psychiatrists who didn't dare come out in those years. They all turned us down. They said, no, we couldn't possibly be on a panel in our own professional association. It would ruin our careers. They wouldn't get referrals,
Kay Lahusen: [00:24:00] and so forth, and they might even be thrown out of APA.So we called the last one on the list, John Friar, who was in Philadelphia with us. We knew him socially. We said, would you do this, John? He said no, I can't do it either. And then he said, well, maybe I could if I wore a mask
Kay Lahusen: [00:24:30] and a wig and a distort microphone. We said, well, if that's the best we can do, let's have him go on the panel. Frank was livid about him going on the panel. He said no. This goes against everything we believe in. We believe in being open and honest about who we are. So we said, Frank,
Kay Lahusen: [00:25:00] this shows the feeling that many psychiatrists have, how they just couldn't afford ... Their lives would be ruined that way.Anyway, we prevailed against Frank, which wasn't easy to do, and then Dr. H. Anonymous was born. He was on the panel. They had a huge crowd there in the lecture hall.
Kay Lahusen: [00:25:30] He gave a talk about what it was to be a gay psychiatrist and have to pretend for most of his life, unless he was at a Gay PA meeting.
Betsy Kalin: That was the beginning of it. That ruling changed a lot of things with people.
Kay Lahusen: The ruling wasn't changed immediately, but that launched the whole fight
Kay Lahusen: [00:26:00] to get a change, the designation of homosexuality as an illness in their important manual of illnesses.
Betsy Kalin: I personally love that picture that you took at the panel. Can you describe it a little bit?
Kay Lahusen: They were in the lecture hall. Barbara was on the left hand side
Kay Lahusen: [00:26:30] in front of a table. Frank next to her, Dr. H. Anonymous next to Frank, and the moderator standing at the lectern. I can't remember whether ... Oh, yes. On the other side, the psychiatrist, who wasn't gay, and believed in illness, I think. And I think they had a psychiatrist who was wondering,
Kay Lahusen: [00:27:00] maybe on the fence, I can't quite remember. So much of this is ancient history. I really can't remember it all. And they took turns, of course, going to the lectern and giving their point of view.
Betsy Kalin: Great. Thank you for telling me about that.
Kay Lahusen: I think it was in The New York Times. Well, it was in Barbara's obituary in The New York Times, much later.
Betsy Kalin: [00:27:30] Was Frank part of ECHO? And what was ECHO?
Kay Lahusen: ECHO was a coalition of gay groups, the early gay groups. It was DOB, because of course, they had an east coast chapter founded by Barbara, and it was Washington Mattachine, it was another Philadelphia group called Drum,
Kay Lahusen: [00:28:00] or maybe it was the Philadelphia Mattachine, I'm not sure. Anyway, there were four of the earliest groups that got in a coalition. They thought there was more strength that way. They called themselves East Coast Homophile Organizations.
Kay Lahusen: [00:28:30] For a while, it was thought the term homophile would be better, would go over better in terms of PR if they could take sex out of homosexual. But anyway, so it was East Coast Homophile Organizations.
Betsy Kalin: What kind of work did you do with them?
Kay Lahusen: Nothing. We just held conferences. It was about the best we
Kay Lahusen: [00:29:00] could do before someone said, "hey, we should go out and picket".
Betsy Kalin: And so Frank was a part of that with you, and part of doing the picketing?
Kay Lahusen: Yes. Definitely. I think at first he thought maybe it was a foolish idea, and then he thought better of it, and said yes, we should try that. And so that's the way the picket lines were born in Washington. The first time
Kay Lahusen: [00:29:30] they went out and picketed, I think they were ten people, and it was thought that they shouldn't have publicity because it might encourage people to come and harass them, throw rocks, who knows. But the event went so well and they did notify the press. The event went without any trouble at all. So then they decided, let's go picket the White House.
Kay Lahusen: [00:30:00] I think this early picket wasn't at the White House. Anyway, they decided they'd go picket the White House, invite the press, send a letter into the president with their demands, their wishes, and walk around for a couple of hours in the sunshine. Now, still, some people wore sunglasses and others just thought it was
Kay Lahusen: [00:30:30] too much to come out in that setting, but that was the first substantial picket.
Betsy Kalin: Were you taking pictures of that?
Kay Lahusen: Yes. I got in the line, take pictures, got out of line, which is why I'm never shown in the line.
Betsy Kalin: How about for you? Were you wearing the dark glasses?
Kay Lahusen: Sometimes I wore them because of the sunshine, but not to hide my identity.
Betsy Kalin: [00:31:00] How were you with being an out gay person?
Kay Lahusen: You walked around, went to the grocery store like an ordinary person and all of that, and nobody thought you were gay. There was no problem in every day living, but when you got in a picket line and carried a sign like our signs, automatically,
Kay Lahusen: [00:31:30] people thought you were gay. Not invariably. I know one woman looked at our picket lines and she said, they're all actors. She thought nobody could possibly want to do this. It was really gay. I wrote articles about these early picket lines that appeared in ... My articles were in The Ladder.
Kay Lahusen: [00:32:00] Some people said ridiculously ... You're ridiculous, if not utterly absurd, that we have gay pickets. That was a gay person who wrote to us. Another person, a father with his kids said to them, hold your noses here, this is dirty. We never knew
Kay Lahusen: [00:32:30] what the comments would be. A gay person said, it's as if a weight dropped off my soul. I published a lot of the comments. Gay, straight, and who knows what, because I thought it made for an interesting reading.
Betsy Kalin: I saw a picture of you and Barbara holding stuffed dinosaurs.
Betsy Kalin: [00:33:00] Do you want to talk about where that image came from, because I love that picture of the two of you.
Kay Lahusen: Much later in years when there was a radical gay organization in New York called Gay Liberation Front ... I said to Barbara and Frank, "You really should find out what this is all about. They're getting a lot of people attending."
Kay Lahusen: [00:33:30] This was in more radical times than the early pickets, let me tell you, by far. Barbara and Frank came up, she from Philadelphia, he from Washington. They attended. One of the super radical, gay, supposedly ... Yeah, I think he was gay. [inaudible] said "What are your credentials
Kay Lahusen: [00:34:00] for being here?" As if they didn't belong. Barbara said, "Well, I'm gay". And she said that we were in the old picket lines and so forth. They called them dinosaurs and lackeys of the establishment. That was the one I particularly liked. Lackeys of the establishment.
Kay Lahusen: [00:34:30] Anyway, I said to Barbara after that, I said, "We really should make some hay out of this". I went past a shop that had these stuffed dinosaurs in the window, and I said, "Why don't we get a couple of dinosaurs and walk around with them at gay conferences?" So that's what we did, and we had fun with them over the whole thing.
Betsy Kalin: [00:35:00] That's a great story. I love that. I love the picture. You guys are so happy with your dinosaurs.
Kay Lahusen: Oh, yes. We were. We had a lot of enjoyment out of them. And we made fun of GLF for it.
Betsy Kalin: How did you start to become part of the GAA? And what was the GAA?
Kay Lahusen: GLF was super radical. They were very chaotic.
Kay Lahusen: [00:35:30] They wanted to start a revolution, and Frank said he just didn't see it happening, but anyway ... I'm sorry, what was your question?
Betsy Kalin: What is the GAA?
Kay Lahusen: Gay Activist Alliance. Some of us felt that GLF wasn't gonna get anywhere. They were so chaotic in their meetings. Everybody yelling and screaming and calling each other names.
Kay Lahusen: [00:36:00] So, we decided to break away. There was no membership. It was totally anarchy, so there was nothing to walk away from, because nothing was really organized in GLF. 12 of us went our separate ways. We didn't go to their meetings anymore.
Kay Lahusen: [00:36:30] We drew up a constitution, worked by Robert's Rules of Order, had membership ... I forget what else. But anyway, we became a structured organization and we worked hard at a given agenda for change.For example, when Harper's Magazine published an anti-gay article,
Kay Lahusen: [00:37:00] you can't believe it, but in those days, they really did, we invaded their headquarters. We were there early in the morning when the secretary was just opening up and we all went in, and we were very nice, very pleasant, and we served coffee and donuts. When the phone rang, we took over the phones, and we'd answer,
Kay Lahusen: [00:37:30] we're having a sit in at Harper's Magazine because they published an anti-gay article. Anyway, the news travels fast in New York. The New York radio were saying, a bunch of homosexuals has taken over Harper's Magazine and they're doing a sit in there. So, anyway, it was a fun event. Nobody was harmed.
Kay Lahusen: [00:38:00] GAA was non-violent. We were very polite, and we went and talked to the editor, I remember one of our spokesmen saying, you knew that article would be harmful to homosexuals. You knew that.I don't know. The editors never responded in print and never discussed
Kay Lahusen: [00:38:30] it in print about the sit in. But, we were militant without being nasty or disruptive that much, although we did disrupt a day of business at Harper's.
Betsy Kalin: That's great. That's a wonderful story. I'd never heard that story. Can you hear the TV?
Peter Lien: Yep.
Betsy Kalin: Okay. I'll be right back. I'm gonna get you some water.
Kay Lahusen: Please do.
Betsy Kalin: Yes.
Betsy Kalin: [00:39:00] The bookstore ... First, I was wondering if you could talk about the American Library Association and then ...
Kay Lahusen: That came much later than the bookstore.
Betsy Kalin: Oh, really? Okay. Start with the bookstore. One second. We just need to focus.
Kay Lahusen: I'm trying to think when that started. I don't know the year it started. My book came out in '72. It started in the late '60s.
Betsy Kalin: What started in the late '60s?
Kay Lahusen: That bookstore.
Betsy Kalin: [00:39:30] Which bookstore?
Kay Lahusen: The Oscar Wilde Memorial bookstore.
Betsy Kalin: Who's in the picture?
Kay Lahusen: I'll say it for the mic. I'm running out of voice, okay?
Betsy Kalin: Okay.
Kay Lahusen: You tell me what you want to know.
Betsy Kalin: Just tell me about the Oscar Wilde Memorial bookstore.
Kay Lahusen: Okay. You want to know about the Oscar Wilde Memorial bookshop. It was in New York City. Started in the
Kay Lahusen: [00:40:00] late-mid '60s, maybe '67 or '68 or something. Our friend, Craig Rodwell started it. Craig came to New York from Chicago and had a full scholarship to study ballet at the New York City Ballet. He came to New York, never went to the ballet school, he went to New York Mattachine
Kay Lahusen: [00:40:30] and said, "Use me, I want to work here". So, he wanted to work in the cause from the time he was a young man. He wanted New York Mattachine to have a storefront where they would dispense gay literature, flyers, about meetings and events and so forth, in order to attract gay people.
Kay Lahusen: [00:41:00] He wanted it to be in the Village, where most gay people were living.Well, New York Mattachine couldn't see that. They were in a stuffy little office in a very run down little office building, and they weren't ready for meeting the public down at the street level, down at the sidewalk level.
Kay Lahusen: [00:41:30] Craig went to work for a couple of summers on Fire Island, and he saved all of his money he made in tips in this bar or whatever on Fire Island, and he saved much of his salary. He was working as a page or something on Wall Street. Anyway, he got together enough money to rent a little shop
Kay Lahusen: [00:42:00] off a busy street off 8th Street in Greenwich Village, and it was close to NYU, too, so it was sort of a shortcut that NYU students took to get to 8th Street.Anyway, he rented this little storefront and opened a bookstore and had
Kay Lahusen: [00:42:30] gay flyers out from any gay organization that wanted to put a flyer out. He didn't discriminate. And some were more radical, and some were less radical. 25 books, he opened with. He wanted gay positive books, so he wasn't about to publish books by psychiatrists saying we were sick,
Kay Lahusen: [00:43:00] so that's how little literature there was when he opened the bookstore. Actually, he somehow managed to scrape a living. He started a book service, too, and he made money that way. He would sit there on cold winter nights with his little dog at his side, his little Schnauzer, and he would have the coffee
Kay Lahusen: [00:43:30] pot on and some donuts, maybe, if it was a cold night. And he would talk to the people who wandered in. Many of them were gay people who just desperately needed somebody to talk to and needed to see a book that was half way positive, at least.He was doing, I think, a very good service in the movement.
Kay Lahusen: [00:44:00] The store was trashed at one point by Nazis, who left a swastika behind. His mother came out from Chicago and helped him put the bookstore back together again, and she helped him, and they got it up and running. She often used to sit in the bookstore with him, as well as his little dog, and he got a boyfriend later on and the boyfriend used to sit in there.
Kay Lahusen: [00:44:30] Craig often said, I'm not a very gregarious person, but he realized so many people needed somebody to talk to, so it was really wonderful. He really wanted it as a service to the gay movement and a way to help the gay minority, and nevermind that the older, stodgy New York Mattachine
Kay Lahusen: [00:45:00] wouldn't go along with his idea. He prevailed and did very well with the bookstore, finally, when the movement started to take off.He finally moved the shop to Christoper Street, which had a lot of gay traffic on it. Walking traffic. Christopher and, believe it or not, Gay Street, so he had a wonderful intersection.
Kay Lahusen: [00:45:30] He was just up the hill from the Stonewall Inn, actually. I mean up the street. Anyway, over time, his book service was popular. The shop was popular. People loved to drop in there. It was very pleasant. I worked there for a couple of years.
Betsy Kalin: That's a great story. That's a great story. I, of course, have been there.
Kay Lahusen: [00:46:00] You were, in the old days?
Betsy Kalin: In the old days.
Kay Lahusen: Really?
Betsy Kalin: Yeah, because I lived in New York.
Kay Lahusen: Where was the store then?
Betsy Kalin: It was still in the Village, but I don't think it was on ... I don't remember it on Christopher. I don't remember that.
Kay Lahusen: Christoper and Gay was more high rent than the first shop.
Betsy Kalin: Yeah, I think it moved. Can you tell me now about the American Library Association and the kissing booth and the photographs that came?
Kay Lahusen: [00:46:30] Sure. I should begin by telling you my partner, Barbara, was a great bibliophile. She was collecting books with mentions of homosexuality. Anything on the subject from way back in the '50s. Going to the Strand Bookstore in New York, getting used books from everywhere ...
Kay Lahusen: [00:47:00] She really knew the literature more than most gay people by far. She was picked to do a broadcast from New York. Baird Searles], a fellow had a broadcast on WBIA called Homosexual News and Reviews. He went to Barbara and said, I take vacations sometimes. I can't do this
Kay Lahusen: [00:47:30] show constantly. I might be away, I might not feel well. Will you pitch in? So she said, "Sure".She went to the studio one day and went to the mailbox to see what she was going to talk about on the air. Here was a notice that a bunch of librarians were gonna get together and have coffee
Kay Lahusen: [00:48:00] and such on Sunday afternoons or something like that. So she thought, "Gee, I love book and I love libraries. I'm gonna find out about this organization." So she went, and it was founded by a man named Israel Fishman, and he was trying his best to launch a little group that's roughly organized,
Kay Lahusen: [00:48:30] and he realized he wasn't a good organizer. So, after a few visits, he said to Barbara, "Wouldn't you like to head up this group? It's really not something I'm cut out to do. Why don't you try to organize it and make it grow?" She thought, "Terrific". And then somehow they became
Kay Lahusen: [00:49:00] sort of a satellite group of the American Library Association.All these people attending this group were librarians except Barbara, of course, so they had a right to be in the ALA. ALA at that time had a radical wing called, oh heck, I forget what,
Kay Lahusen: [00:49:30] but in this subgroup at ALA that was a radical wing, they took on the library group, which of course was considered very far out, but they did it. Barbara was able to join ALA, believe it or not, she didn't have to be a librarian to join it. She paid the dues and she did all the stuff you need to do to be a member,
Kay Lahusen: [00:50:00] tackled the bureaucracy, and headed up the ALA. The organization grew under her. She was for 16 years setting up this group and making it grow.I'll tell you how she did it. First of all, they went to the ALA meetings, and because she was used to gay organizations
Kay Lahusen: [00:50:30] and having flyers and everything, they made up a flyer on themselves and handed it out at ALA. Then they decided they should hand out a bibliography of gay positive literature that could go into libraries. This is a convention of ... It's one of the biggest conventions going. This and the psychiatric conventions are huge.
Kay Lahusen: [00:51:00] They handed out copies of this bibliography that was one page of a mimeograph sheet, so you know how few there were books to recommend. I remember in one instance, there was a major meeting of ... I forget what it was called, but it was the biggest meeting of the convention of ALA,
Kay Lahusen: [00:51:30] and we said, "Let's put a flyer on every seat announcing our group". We said, "We don't have enough flyers for every seat", so we said, "We'll put one on every other seat. That way, if they don't have one on their seat, they'll be curious about it and want to know what it's about and they'll share them."
Kay Lahusen: [00:52:00] So we did that. We even put flyers up in the elevators in the hotel. You had to just think of everything you could possibly think of to promote yourself in those days. We did not want to be just a little organization in a ratty little office building. We wanted to be out and advertising ourselves. Anyway,
Kay Lahusen: [00:52:30] ALA quickly became aware that there was a gay group. They offered us part of a program, so one of our members got up and told about his being hired as the librarian at the University of Minnesota. Had a contract and everything. He told them he was going to be a gay activist, and you know they rescinded contract,
Kay Lahusen: [00:53:00] and he got up and told about it. I don't know where it went from there. I think maybe, ultimately, he got the job. I can't remember.Barbara had many creative programs at ALA, I should say. She did one on children's literature always being negative and how the gay person always got killed
Kay Lahusen: [00:53:30] in a car crash or something horrible at the end. They called that, Must Gay be Grim for Jane and Jim? They had It's Safer to be Gay on Another Planet. Gay characters in science fictions. I can't remember all the programs they had. They had one gay artists in history, or who was said to be gay or something.
Kay Lahusen: [00:54:00] That was the way that went. Have I answered your question about ...
Betsy Kalin: What about the kissing booth?
Kay Lahusen: Oh, the kissing booth. That was another way they advertised themselves. They were given space in the exhibit hall at ALA. This was a booth, eight by eight feet, and we had a friend who was an architect
Kay Lahusen: [00:54:30] in Philadelphia. He designed a booth made out of foam core. It fit together by keying, if you know what I mean, keying the panels. We had a lovely booth set up. The fire marshal came and said, this is a fire hazard. You can't have this here. And we said,
Kay Lahusen: [00:55:00] "Oh, gee. We flew this out here from Philadelphia and it means so much to us". He said, "Alright, I'll let you get away with it this time, but don't bring it back".Anyway, we had our gay booth and we had big letters. The title of the booth was Gay, Proud, and Healthy: The Homosexual Community Speaks.
Kay Lahusen: [00:55:30] One little cubbyhole was for gay literature that we could hand out. Bibliographies and so forth. Then we decided, what are we going to do to draw attention to our gay booth? We'll have a kissing booth. Anyway, Barbara and one of our gay book award
Kay Lahusen: [00:56:00] recipients, the author of Patience and Sarah, Alma Routsong was her real name, she and Barbara stood under a sign saying, Gay kisses for women. Then we had a couple of guys under a sign, Gay kisses for men. No men came into the booth,
Kay Lahusen: [00:56:30] but because our gay group was a subgroup of this radical librarian group in ALA, they wanted to help us out.So, they came to the booth and they hugged Barbara and Alma, and they sort of had a love in, a very random, crazy, hug a homosexual time.
Kay Lahusen: [00:57:00] The aisles were jammed in the exhibit hall looking at the gay kissing booth. Alma Routsong's book got a lot of attention, which didn't hurt, from the librarians. That's the story of the gay kissing booth. And yes, I took pictures of it, because of course, I was chronicling all this stuff we were doing,
Kay Lahusen: [00:57:30] but we had to do inventive things.
Betsy Kalin: I'm just gonna pause one second.
Kay Lahusen: As you might realize, we all had a very good time with our activism. It wasn't grim the way GLF tried to make it. A serious matter of starting a serious revolution in the streets, although we did have
Kay Lahusen: [00:58:00] huge parades in the streets, finally. But anyway, it was tough getting off the ground. That's where all the fun was. I remember we were so desperate to find members, and so few gay people wanted to have anything to do with us in New York, actually, but there was an election in New York, and one of the candidates was reasonably
Kay Lahusen: [00:58:30] pro-gay as it was in those days, not terribly pro-gay, but anyway ... We wanted to help him with his political campaign. I took a bunch of flyers and I went uptown to Bloomingdale's department store.They had an entrance on one corner that went right into the men's department, so they had a lot of gay men going in and out of that entrance.
Kay Lahusen: [00:59:00] I stationed myself there with these flyers for that particular politician, and I would hand them out and say, "Here, you need this". Or, "Here, I think you need this". They didn't think they were recognized as gay men, but usually, I think I could recognize them. It was lots of fun to hand these out. Of course, most of them, when they realized what it was,
Kay Lahusen: [00:59:30] didn't want to have anything to do with it. But still, it got across the message that we had a politician that might be favorable.
Betsy Kalin: Talk to me about gay men. How did the AIDs epidemic affect you and Barbara?
Kay Lahusen: We knew men who were suddenly ill. We had a plot in a community garden, for example,
Kay Lahusen: [01:00:00] vegetable garden, and the stellar gardener was this handsome, tall gay man who went around helping everybody else with their gardening. Everybody loved him.
Peter Lien: Can we stop for a minute? I just want to move this light.
Betsy Kalin: We'll start over.
Kay Lahusen: Where did I start?
Betsy Kalin: You said that there was a community garden.
Kay Lahusen: [01:00:30] That's not where I started.
Betsy Kalin: You were talking about that you knew gay men who got ill from AIDs.
Kay Lahusen: Yes. All right, when do we start?
Peter Lien: We're rolling.
Kay Lahusen: We knew a lot of gay men over time. Suddenly, some of them got sick, and
Kay Lahusen: [01:01:00] it was AIDs. It was the beginning. We were in Philadelphia then. We knew this one fellow and we tried to help him. He had to give his dog away. He went to University Hospital there, and they put his tray, his dinner tray, outside of his room on the floor.
Kay Lahusen: [01:01:30] It really was a very hard time. Most women who had shunned gay men came to realize that we were all one community and they really needed a lot of help.I know I used to go to a local farmer's market on Saturday night when they were shutting down and they had surplus of this and that.
Kay Lahusen: [01:02:00] I'd go around with a cart and say, It's Saturday night, do you have any food left over that you don't need? I'm from the AIDs house around the corner and they really could use some help for their pantry. You'd be surprised. It was coming to the point where people did want to help. The coffee booth used to give me a pound of coffee every Saturday,
Kay Lahusen: [01:02:30] and the butcher, he had some stuff.Every little place, almost, was willing to donate. Couple of them didn't want to because we were gay, or they thought we were. Anyway, in all of these ways, just visiting gay men ... Then a gay food service, really organization started up,
Kay Lahusen: [01:03:00] called MANNA in Philadelphia. They needed drivers to drive meals and food to gay men who were housebound because they were too ill to go out. We especially like to do it on holidays, because their usual drivers who took their food around often wanted to be with their families,
Kay Lahusen: [01:03:30] and we didn't have any family to be with, except each other. So we would go and take a lot of meals around to various homes in Philly. They were gay men who wouldn't have had any Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner if we hadn't brought it to them.And of course, we visited the Quilt when that got going in Washington. Could I take a picture? I took pictures
Kay Lahusen: [01:04:00] on the ground of Quilt, segments of the Quilt that were in honor of gay men that we knew. I couldn't get a long shot of the Quilt. They had a lift there. Am I using the right word?
Betsy Kalin: Like a crane?
Kay Lahusen: [01:04:30] Yeah, a crane there. They wouldn't let you go up ... They would take your camera up
Kay Lahusen: and take a picture, a long shot of the Quilt. I had several shots like that, but I did climb to the top of the Washington Monument, 500 something feet. I got to the top. When I got there, I couldn't get the camera up high enough in the window to shoot down and get a good picture.
Kay Lahusen: [01:05:00] I just took a chance. I couldn't see anything, but I think, maybe, somebody lifted me up at one point. Id put my camera up and take a chance, and just shoot and hope for the best. I had a shot of the White House in the background, for example. That year, we had the Quilt in front of the White House, hoping the president would come out and notice it. But he didn't, of course.
Kay Lahusen: [01:05:30] I managed to get a good shot of the Quilt and the White House in the background
Betsy Kalin: How did the experience with AIDs ... How did that change the LGBT community?
Kay Lahusen: I told you. A lot of women realized the men that they had known slightly were really in need of some help. That this illness was very serious and probably they were going to die.
Kay Lahusen: [01:06:00] It was a time of crisis. It was like a war. You can imagine everybody wanted to pitch in. Any feeling of animosity between gay women and men, I think, was pretty much done away with in that period of time.
Betsy Kalin: Yeah. And you lost so many friends.
Kay Lahusen: [01:06:30] Yes. Yes. I did lose a lot of friends.
Betsy Kalin: After the crisis, what were the things that you were organizing for next? What was important for you and Barbara?
Kay Lahusen: I was always interested in archives, so we went around visiting all the gay archives, trying to think where we would like our stuff.
Kay Lahusen: [01:07:00] We knew what they all had to offer. The community archives very much wanted our stuff, but we were afraid that they would not have the longevity that we wanted. I think we wanted to be with a major research archive. Fortunately ...
Kay Lahusen: [01:07:30] We looked at Cornell. We liked Cornell, but it was up on a mountaintop, practically, and out of any major city. We looked at San Francisco. No, we wanted our stuff where we could go look at it, maybe, if we wanted to.Anyway, we spent some time trying to track down where we wanted to put our stuff. But New York Public
Kay Lahusen: [01:08:00] came to us, and the archivist at that time, who's not there anymore, called us and gave us a good tour of the whole building and the archival stuff. It was very nice, having them come to us, but of course, when we expressed interest, they said, We have to go look at your stuff to see if we want it.
Kay Lahusen: [01:08:30] They came to us and they sent two people down, and they spent a whole day rummaging through all this stuff we'd accumulated over many years. They said, yes, we'd definitely like to have it. They said, We'll even send a truck.Bells rang because I didn't know how we'd get all this stuff from Philadelphia to New York.
Kay Lahusen: [01:09:00] If they would send a truck, that would be perfect. Anyway, we spent a lot of time packing it up and they were aware of that, and they said, Don't organize it. We have our own ways to organize it. Just throw it all in boxes. So that's what we did. A lot of friends helped us do this. Oh gosh, I think we had
Kay Lahusen: [01:09:30] around 300 cartons. When the truck came, it had on the door of the truck, Fine Arts Moving. I said to guys in this truck, I said, You really should have a bigger sign on your truck
Kay Lahusen: [01:10:00] if you're going to be in Manhattan. You'll get more business that way. And they said, No, we'd have robberies that way. They said yesterday we had a Van Gogh in our truck.Anyway, it was a very big truck, and it was very nice that they came and hauled it all away for us to New York. That's where it is now. They had to find money to finance the
Kay Lahusen: [01:10:30] hiring of an archivist to tend our collection. It was a long time before we heard from them. It turned out Time Warner finally gave a very hefty sum to hire an archivist to process our stuff.
Betsy Kalin: I did not know that. That's really interesting.
Kay Lahusen: Yeah. You never know all the ins and outs. You have to have it appraised. We had it appraised.
Kay Lahusen: [01:11:00] When I told the appraisal value, and I can't remember what it was, but it was ...
Betsy Kalin: It had to be a lot of money.
Kay Lahusen: I don't know. Close to 400 or something.
Betsy Kalin: [01:11:30] What mistakes do you think you and others made in the early years in the battle for gay rights?
Kay Lahusen: [01:12:00] Very few, actually.
Betsy Kalin: Can you say mistakes?
Kay Lahusen: Very few mistakes, because we, after all, we got gay marriage after 50 years. Everybody says our movement was phenomenally successful in a short period, I think largely because of Frank Kameny's planning,
Kay Lahusen: [01:12:30] which was very good. He said, We have to do away with the sickness allegation because people who are deemed mentally ill simply do not get their rights in this society, whether you have proof of it or not. We worked with overthrowing the sickness allegation in APA, American Psychiatric Association. Libraries are so essential.
Kay Lahusen: [01:13:00] Little kids go to libraries to find out when they don't dare ask anybody. It's very important to have gay positive literature in libraries. Our work in the Library Association, I think, was extremely valuable. Now we have big gay book awards, and it's one of the largest
Kay Lahusen: [01:13:30] professional groups in the ALA. How did I get to this point from where we were?
Betsy Kalin: I was asking if you think the gay movement made any mistakes.
Kay Lahusen: If you have to think of mistakes ... I think some groups hanging back from a storefront, like a bookstore on street level,
Kay Lahusen: [01:14:00] but wanting to be in a little office building. More timidity that we might've had. It takes a certain amount of moxie to do the activism, to go and invade Harper's and all of that. You have to be extremely creative to think up that crazy stuff. The kissing booth.
Kay Lahusen: [01:14:30] Mistakes. Gosh, I don't know. I never thought about mistakes. I just thought about getting ahead.
Betsy Kalin: Do you remember where you were when DOMA fell and we had same sex marriage?
Kay Lahusen: I think I was here in Kendall, in a retirement facility. Yes.
Betsy Kalin: Can you repeat ...
Kay Lahusen: You mean when marriage was legalized?
Kay Lahusen: [01:15:00] I think I was here at Kendall in a retirement facility, because I had pictures up of the lawyers that helped, and so forth.
Betsy Kalin: Do you remember how you felt?
Kay Lahusen: I was elated. In the beginning and the earliest days when we were picketing, we never thought to picket for gay marriage.
Kay Lahusen: [01:15:30] I remember Frank Kameny saying, gay marriage? Like that. We were doing the bread and butter issues that are typical in a civil rights group. We want fair employment, ability to serve in the armed forces. What else is there?
Betsy Kalin: Housing.
Kay Lahusen: What?
Betsy Kalin: Housing.
Kay Lahusen: [01:16:00] Housing, of course. Gay marriage didn't occur to us. But I came across an article in ... I think Look Magazine used to compete with Life Magazine, and I think they had this article on two guys out in Minnesota who wanted to get married, and they had a marvelous photo spread. They had these guys in matching bathrobes
Kay Lahusen: [01:16:30] in the bathroom all lathered up and shaving together. A really, good creative photo spread on them. And they were going to fight for gay marriage, and one of them was a law student, so of course, he couldn't wait to challenge the laws of Minnesota.I went to visit them, actually, because I was writing a book about gay pioneers.
Kay Lahusen: [01:17:00] They put me up for the night. I slept on a waterbed for the first time. They told me how determined they were, and the one was not only a law student, the other was a librarian, so the one who was the librarian went to town in the ALA, and the other went to town in legal circles.
Kay Lahusen: [01:17:30] He ran for president of the student body and won. He had a poster of himself with mom and apple pie. Anyway, we had a lot of fun, and believe me, I think we really did get to our goal much better than most movements.
Kay Lahusen: [01:18:00] I mean, the women's movement had the burning bra, supposedly and so forth. But we really had a lot of inventive ways of getting ahead. It was fun.
Betsy Kalin: That's great. Yeah, and the ERA has still never passed.
Kay Lahusen: What?
Betsy Kalin: We have never had the ERA in ...
Kay Lahusen: No. Well, they gotta get busy. Maybe these young kids who are out now getting politicized will push it along.
Betsy Kalin: [01:18:30] Who do you regard as some of the unsung heroes of the gay rights movement?
Kay Lahusen: Oh, gosh. There are so many who did maybe a one shot, but it was an important one shot deal of activism, and then they went away, because they had to eat. Most people have to hold a regular job, you know. We were fortunate we didn't have to.
Kay Lahusen: [01:19:00] I'm losing it again.
Betsy Kalin: You have written down Matt ...
Kay Lahusen: Oh, Matlovich. I think Leonard Matlovich is an unrecognized hero. He came out on the cover of TIME Magazine in his military uniform with his medals saying, I am a homosexual,
Kay Lahusen: [01:19:30] was the big lettering on TIME. Of course, his tombstone has his favorite saying, The army gave me a medal for killing two men and a dishonorable discharge for loving one. People don't talk much about Matlovich, but we liked him a lot.
Betsy Kalin: [01:20:00] That's great. Looking back ...
Kay Lahusen: There were lawyers who helped the cause quite a bit, straight and gay, and they haven't had the recognition that they might have. But they're like photographers. They're behind the scenes.
Betsy Kalin: You never hear about the lawyers.
Kay Lahusen: You never hear about the photographers. Its a plug. I'm shameless.
Betsy Kalin: [01:20:30] Talking about yourself, where do you think you found the strength, the courage, and the conviction to live your life on your own terms?
Kay Lahusen: I have no idea. I think my grandmother was an idealistic person who read a lot of books. I read a lot of books. I read Emerson and Thoreau and picked up a lot of idealistic notions from my reading. I used to read things like
Kay Lahusen: [01:21:00] the Nation Magazine in the school library when I was supposed to be reading this required reading stuff. I didn't like that, but I went off to the library and looked at the Nation and New Republic in those days. I had older role models from people who
Kay Lahusen: [01:21:30] took an unusual path in life, went into some kind of social change movement and made a difference.
Betsy Kalin: There weren't many women who were photographers. Weren't you the first out ...
Kay Lahusen: Yes, but we've had a number since then. I can't account for it. I just like photography. It was something I liked as a kid, and I used to take pictures of the kids next door.
Kay Lahusen: [01:22:00] I did a lot of practice. I came across an article in a photography magazine that the editors had given little box cameras, what we'd call box cameras, cheap little nothing cameras ... They'd given them to these professional photographers and said, Here, go out and take a great picture with this.
Kay Lahusen: [01:22:30] And they were able to. They didn't require any fancy equipment. They had the eye for it. So I realized that I didn't have to have a very expensive camera. I could take my little box camera, and so I practiced with it, trying to take really good pictures that way. My dog, the little boy next door, the fish pond next door, all of that stuff.
Betsy Kalin: [01:23:00] Why do you think now people look at your work and look at your reporting of gay history and gay activism and are just so, first of all, happy that it exists, and then hold you in such high esteem?
Kay Lahusen: [01:23:30] Because I was one of the early pioneers to come out in the sense of getting into a picket line,
Kay Lahusen: and after that, I wrote a little book, and that was one thing. I worked in the Oscar Wilde bookshop, so of course, people would assume I'm gay. I was always out. I was outside the men's department of Bloomingdale's handing them a flyer. Here, you need this. It's just ...
Kay Lahusen: [01:24:00] It's fun if you have a certain amount of moxie to get out there and do these inventive things, and do a kissing booth and everything.
Betsy Kalin: With Barbara, how many years were you two together?
Kay Lahusen: 46 years.
Betsy Kalin: Can you talk about what that means as a couple and being in a lesbian relationship and how we don't have a lot of role models?
Kay Lahusen: [01:24:30] That's true, but ours was so unusual. For one thing, she had a small, private income and we took a number of nothing jobs, so that we were able to be activists and get away for the picket lines and all this stuff we wanted to do, whereas most people can't leave their job and devote themselves to gay activism. So we were
Kay Lahusen: [01:25:00] very unusual in that sense. I think some relationships fall apart when the romance is over, Barbara and I had the movement as a compelling life purpose between us, so that held us together.
Betsy Kalin: [01:25:30] That's beautiful. If someone came to you today, a boy or a girl or young person, and they said they were thinking about coming out, what sort of advice would you give them?
Kay Lahusen: I think it's totally up to them. I do not believe in pushing anybody out of the closet. I believe in urging them to come out, saying how much fun it is, showing them pictures ...
Kay Lahusen: [01:26:00] I've brought a number of people out like that, just to show them what a thrill it is to be in a social change movement. But I don't say to kids, You should come out. I know Craig Rodwell felt the other way. He felt you should tell your parents. Make them understand what your life is like.
Kay Lahusen: [01:26:30] Introduce them to your friends, educate them. You can't just tell somebody and then not educate them. That's the thing. It's sort of a burden on us if we come out to family members to bring them along. If we're not prepared to do that, why just tell them and then let them think their own prejudice thoughts about gay people?
Kay Lahusen: [01:27:00] In a way, it's not a kindness to them.
Betsy Kalin: I think this goes right into the next question. Why do you think it's important to tell your story?
Kay Lahusen: For the sake of those who will find it interesting and something that they might like to do. People in the beginning would ask me, Why are you in that movement? Why would you want to do that?
Kay Lahusen: [01:27:30] A very smart man said to me, Why would you want to do that? I think it is important to let them know why. Obviously, the prejudice and discrimination had to be fought. Somebody had to stand up against it and try to beat it down.
Betsy Kalin: What about you, personally? Why is your story so important?
Kay Lahusen: [01:28:00] I don't know that it is. Just because I am called the first photojournalist doesn't mean a lot. There are a lot of women now taking pictures. I don't know that it is all that important. I think it's important that I kept at it over a lifetime,
Kay Lahusen: [01:28:30] but most people cannot afford to do that. They spend a lot of money going to college, maybe, to be a doctor. They're not gonna throw that over and become a gay activist. In a sense, I was just fortunate that I could do what I did.
Betsy Kalin: I think it's a lot more than that. I think you're being really modest.
Kay Lahusen: [01:29:00] Can you expand on that?
Betsy Kalin: I can, yes. But we're rolling, still. You were like a role model for me and my wife, so because we knew of your photos and knew of your work, and it held out the possibility for me to become a documentary filmmaker and her to be a photojournalist.
Kay Lahusen: Great. Does she run around to gay events and take pictures?
Betsy Kalin: She sure does.
Kay Lahusen: [01:29:30] Yeah. It's important to take pictures of our public statements. Our marches and our ... Well, everything out in the public, actually, now that I think about it. There are gay groups who are athletic and have baseball games, stuff like that. It is important to get out in public. It's important, really,
Kay Lahusen: [01:30:00] for the sake of kids who are coming along and wondering, what can my life be like? Will it all be miserable the way some people say? I'm in the East, but all you need to do is go out in the Midwest and certain places in the middle of the country and find communities, they're still very prejudiced. And you have to have a heart for those kids coming along in that kind of setting and feeling bad about themselves.
Betsy Kalin: [01:30:30] What would your hope be for the future?
Kay Lahusen: More of the same. We're not done yet. We've come a long way, but frankly, we still have more to do.
Kay Lahusen: [01:31:00] My hope for the future ... Gee, I don't think about the future. I think about what I can do today. That's the way I am. One thing I've done that I'd like to point to ... I'm in this retirement facility thats very nice. We have a very nice main dining room. Some of the people here have taken to having
Kay Lahusen: [01:31:30] supper parties together because of a mutual interest. For example, we have a French speaking group, a German speaking group, a vegetarian group ... I forget what are the other groups that meet together.I often thought, we must have a presence in retirement homes for older people.
Kay Lahusen: [01:32:00] When I knew that two other lesbians were coming here, when I met them and we started talking, I said, We really should have a supper group where gay people here can get together in the main dining room. They liked the idea and now we have a table for 12, but we didn't start out with 12. Not only that, I told another friend,
Kay Lahusen: [01:32:30] who's in another retirement facility, and they have now a gay table. It's fun. I'm still thinking up ways to try to move things along.I put a centerpiece in the middle of our gay table. Artificial flowers, but in the gay flag colors, and then the little gay flag and the little American flag in it. I think you may have a picture of it here.
Kay Lahusen: [01:33:00] Anyway, it's our centerpiece in our table. I'm forgetting where I'm going with this. Oh, I know. Of course, I have to carry it to the dining room to put it in the center of the table. So, I'm coming along with it in my arms. Don't you know there are older women here
Kay Lahusen: [01:33:30] who will come up to me and say, Isn't that the gay flag?, and I say, Yes, or What is that? And I tell them. They say, oh, I have a nephew that's gay, and he's so nice. Or, my son is gay, or any relative that they have. Someone in their family is gay, but they don't have any way to talk about it with other people here
Kay Lahusen: [01:34:00] because it still is a bit of a stigma among much older people.It's very nice that they can come up to me and talk about the fact that someone in their family is gay. I had one woman whose son was dying of AIDs when I first got here, and she was so sad over it all
Kay Lahusen: [01:34:30] the time, but she would say to me, At least we had him for all those years before we lost him. It's very good to be what we call a resource person for people like that.
Betsy Kalin: That's a wonderful story. I didn't know anything about that. That's great. It sounds like you should have a bigger table.
Kay Lahusen: We're growing. We're growing.
Betsy Kalin: [01:35:00] Gays and allies.
Kay Lahusen: Yes, we know other people who are coming here to live. And of course, we want the marketing department to use that and to make it known when people apply here, that there are gay people here. They're openly gay. They have a dinner table once a month.
Betsy Kalin: That's great.
Kay Lahusen: Marketing, I'm sure is pondering it, because they have taken a substantial ad in
Kay Lahusen: [01:35:30] one of the publications for retirement homes.
Betsy Kalin: OUTWORDS is the first national project to capture and share our history through in depth interviews. Why is this important, and if you could mention OUTWORDS in your answer.
Kay Lahusen: I think OUTWORDS is very important. It's just too bad it didn't start earlier when so many of us have now passed.
Kay Lahusen: [01:36:00] I'm like, one of the oldest people, probably, in your collection of people. I believe in addressing the needs of older people, younger people ... I've talked about younger people needing us and books in the libraries and so forth. But I think something like OUTWORDS is a very worthy project.
Kay Lahusen: [01:36:30] I'm just sorry that so many people like Barbara and Frank Kameny and Leonard Matlovich and Craig Rodwell, who started the Oscar Wilde Memorial bookshop, just so sorry that they're gone. But at least you're doing your part to catch some of us who are still here.
Betsy Kalin: [01:37:00] Thank you. That's a great answer. Do you have some questions, Peter?
Peter Lien: I'm good.
Betsy Kalin: I'm just gonna make sure before we free you from the light that I got all of the questions that I was supposed to.
Kay Lahusen: Oh no, you weren't supposed to do all of those. It was sort of a pick and choose.
Betsy Kalin: Yes.
Kay Lahusen: Of course, you've plugged your OUTWORDS. I'd like to plug my books. The Barbara book. It isn't mine,
Kay Lahusen: [01:37:30] but there is a wonderful book about Barbara now.
Betsy Kalin: Stay where you are. I'll get the book if you want to hold it. Is that what you want?
Kay Lahusen: Yes. I forget the exact title. Barbara Gittings: Gay Activist, or what is it?
Betsy Kalin: Start over from the beginning because I just ruined the shot.
Kay Lahusen: Oh, Gay Pioneer. That's it.
Betsy Kalin: Talk about the book.
Kay Lahusen: [01:38:00] The book is Barbara Gittings: Gay Pioneer, and it has a lot of stuff that she wrote, that I wrote, and many people wrote, and comments they made, places she went, things she did to help the cause. Tracy Baim was a wonderful journalist who put it all together. My picture of Barbara's on the cover. Anyway, it's a wonderful paperback book.
Kay Lahusen: [01:38:30] It has, what, 200 or so of my pictures in it, detailing a lot of the things I talked about in this show. I'd like to plug that book. I won't tell you about my earlier book. This is the important one. The earlier book is out of print.
Betsy Kalin: It doesn't matter. I think you should talk about it.
Kay Lahusen: [01:39:00] I wrote this. It came out in 1972. I used Tobin as a pen name because my Kay Lahusen is a name everybody says, What is that? What nationality? How do you pronounce it? How do you spell it? I can't remember it. Anyway, it's not a very good pen name, so I picked one out of the phonebook. So, I'm Kay Tobin,
Kay Lahusen: [01:39:30] and now I sometimes use Kay Tobin Lahusen. Randy Wicker was my co author.Originally, I was gonna write the book with a man, and I found I couldn't really work with him. But my editor said, I think the book would sell if it had a man's name on it, too. So, in order to get the book contract, I turned to a man friend, Randy Wicker,
Kay Lahusen: [01:40:00] who at the time was a very good, productive gay activist, since gone off into other groups, organizations ... But he agreed that he would promote the book on radio and television. I never liked that aspect. I was too shy to want to do that.
Kay Lahusen: [01:40:30] So, he put his name on it. He was going to write the introduction, but in the end I liked mine better, so I did mine.But this book, Gay Crusaders, is now a rare book. I've been told by two people it's selling for around 200 dollars on Amazon, I guess it is. It's hard to believe because it started off at a dollar and a quarter,
Kay Lahusen: [01:41:00] but anyway ... It tells the story of 15 gay activists, unfortunately more men, I couldn't get more women that I deemed sufficiently accomplished as activists. But anyway, 15 subjects who came into the movement
Kay Lahusen: [01:41:30] for different reasons. It would answer my friend's question, Why would you go into that movement? Here a minister of a national fellowship of churches, who proclaims that Lord is my shepherd and he knows I'm gay. So many gay people are thrown out of churches, so we started our own. This man started the first gay church.
Kay Lahusen: [01:42:00] A homosexual law student, who with the help of mom and apple pie, was elected president of the student body of the University of Minnesota, while he also went on to fight for gay marriage. The founders of America's oldest lesbian organization, who are now controversial forces
Kay Lahusen: [01:42:30] in women's lib. Well, I'm sorry, they went off into women's lib, but I think they've come back into the gay fold a bit. In their later years, they came to their senses, so they're in the book. Ive written about a PhD astronomer, who became the first avowed homosexual to run for Congress. That's Frank Kameny's story.
Kay Lahusen: [01:43:00] When people wonder why would you do that, these are some of the reasons and more.
Betsy Kalin: Fantastic. Did you want to talk a little bit about ... You didn't mention at all how you met Barbara.
Kay Lahusen: No.
Betsy Kalin: You don't want to talk about that? That's old news.
Kay Lahusen: That's so dumb. It's been written about everywhere.
Betsy Kalin: Okay. Then I think we are done ...
Kay Lahusen: Good.
Betsy Kalin: Unless you have anything we didn't cover.
Kay Lahusen: [01:43:30] Probably. I'll think of it at 3 AM. I don't have any voice left, anyway.
Betsy Kalin: Okay. Kay, thank you so much. This was wonderful.
Kay Lahusen: All right. I think it was poor, but ... uh oh.

Interviewed by: Betsy Kalin
Camera: Peter Lien
Date: April 05, 2018
Location: Kendal at Longwood, Kennett Square, PA