Rodwell was hardly alone. Take Barbara Gittings, who marched with him in Philadelphia. Gittings served as the editor of The Ladder from 1963 to 1966. She used the paper, which had originated as a means of increasing membership in the Daughters of Bilitis, to construct an intellectual community, connecting readers from San Francisco to Cleveland to Philadelphia. The paper ran stories on the psychological profession’s emphasis on men and the “blackout on female homosexuality,” featured forums where readers debated the merits of books by Betty Friedan and Mary McCarthy, and ran interviews with lesbian thinkers and activists.
Gittings featured a black woman, Ernestine Eckstein, the vice president of the New York City chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis, on the June 1966 cover of The Ladder, at a time when racism plagued the LGBTQ community. Gittings signaled her ambition for the paper by adding the subtitle, “A Lesbian Review.” Her successors advanced this mission, and in 1969, when Barbara Grier was editor, she proposed to make The Ladder into the “Atlantic Monthly of Lesbian thought.”
After stepping down from The Ladder, Gittings remained committed to the power of books to advance LGBTQ activism. By 1970, the excitement ignited by Stonewall led to an explosion of new groups, from political organizations to professional and academic associations to gay churches. While hosting a weekly 15-minute gay-news segment on the New York radio station WBAI in 1970, Gittings came across a reference to a gay group that had grown out of the American Library Association (ALA). Despite not being a librarian, she asked to join, and was welcomed. She was then tasked with organizing a bibliography of all the books that positively promoted homosexuality. Her list included 32 books. At the annual meeting of the ALA in Dallas in 1971, the gay group gave a book prize, set up a kissing booth to attract attention to their cause, and organized sessions such as, “Sex and the Single Cataloguer: New Thoughts on Some Unthinkable Subjects.”
Creating a bibliography and organizing panels at the ALA radically transformed the definition of homosexuality. Like Rodwell’s work at the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop, Gittings and others in the ALA challenged the clinical and criminal meaning of the term, and illustrated how homosexuality could also refer to books positively. More to the point, homosexuality, they asserted, was not just a term that medical, legal, or religious authorities assigned to gay people, but one that gay people could publicly, politically, and professionally define for themselves. It was an intellectual revolution, one that changed who got to use the term, how it was used, and what it meant.
In 1972, Gittings agreed to be on a panel at the American Psychiatric Association to discuss the medical profession’s insistence that homosexuality was a mental illness. The panel, “Psychiatry, Friend or Foe to Homosexuals, A Dialogue,” included Gittings, Frank Kameny, and two psychiatrists. The problem was that the gay activists scheduled to be on the panel weren’t psychiatrists, and the psychiatrists weren’t gay. Having Gittings and Kameny speak to an audience of medical professionals was, indeed, radical. Since the medical profession’s invention of homosexuality as a category at the end of the 19th century, queer people had not been able to formally participate in discussions about their identity.