Archive for the ‘activists’ Category


San Francisco, Calif.

Daughters of Bilitis / The Ladder
693 Mission Street

Started in 1955 as a social group providing an alternative to the bars, the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB), the first U.S. lesbian organization, expanded rapidly into a lesbian rights organization. The name “Bilitis” was taken from a poem by Pierre Louys about a lesbian of the ancient Greek poet Sappho’s time.

Launched in 1956, DOB’s magazine, The Ladder, started with a post office box number but by its fourth issue was listed at this Mission Street address. Its masthead listed Phyllis Lyon as editor and Del Martin as assistant editor. Lyon and Martin were a couple, and remained so until Martin’s death in 2008. They were the first couple to be legally married in San Francisco after the state Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage.

Early issues of The Ladder contained articles such as “A Citizen’s Rights in Case of Arrest” and the regular column “Lesbiana,” which briefly reviewed books of interest. The magazine’s subscription coupon specified that is cost “$2.50 a year, mailed in a plain, sealed envelope.” The Ladder also included a monthly calendar of DOB events.

The Ladder remained at this location until 1958, when DOB membership and magazine subscribers had grown so much that the group found new, roomier quarters on O’Farrell Street. (Did they know that Alice B. Toklas, lover of Gertrude Stein, had once lived on O’Farrell Street?) The magazine remained in publication until 1972.

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Nichols & Kameny 1965

Washington, D.C.

Frank Kameny house (private)
5020 Cathedral Avenue, N.W.

The house that gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny (b. 1925) has called home since 1962 won’t win any architectural prizes; it’s just a modest, two-story brick house built in 1955. But in February 2009, it was designated a Washington, D.C. historic landmark, in recognition of its significance, as the Washington Post put it, as “the epicenter of the gay rights movement in the nation’s capital” for 13 years.

Kameny served in World War II, earned a doctorate at Harvard, and came to D.C. to work as an astronomer for the Army Map Service. But in 1957, he was fired for being gay. He didn’t give up, and took his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1961. The discrimination he experienced turned him into a lifelong activist for gay rights. One of his many accomplishments was helping head up the struggle to have homosexuality removed from the American Psychiatric Association’s list of mental illnesses.

Kameny’s papers are now at the Library of Congress, and the Smithsonian Institution houses artifacts related to his gay activism, such as placards used in protests (like that shown above, in 1965). Many of those placards, Kameny has said, were made in the living room of this house. His home has now been nominated for recognition on the National Register of Historic Places.

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