Lilli Vincenz, who became a gay rights activist in the quiet, repressive era before the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion, when such a concept barely existed, making a mark as a newspaper editor, documentary filmmaker and psychotherapist dedicated to LGBTQ issues , died June 27 in Oakton, Virginia. She was 85 years old.
His death, in a nursing facility, was confirmed by a granddaughter, Julia Bode, who did not specify a cause.
Dr. Vincenz’s journey to prominence in the nascent gay rights movement of the mid-1960s began after a personal collision with intolerance. In 1963, she was serving in the Women’s Army Corps when a roommate of hers came out as gay, leading to her discharge after only nine months in uniform.
She took that rejection as an opportunity to start a fight against injustice that would guide her for decades. « After leaving WAC, » she he said in an interview with the Gay Today website« I actually felt free to be myself. »
In April 1965, Dr. Vicenz became, by many accounts, the first lesbian to picket the White House in support of equal rights for gays as a member of the Mattachine Society of Washington, one of the first gay rights organizations.
The protest – the first of its kindaccording to the Library of Congress – and others that followed were small but brought visibility to a movement in its infancy.
“What did I want to achieve?” she told Gay Today about her early efforts with the company. « Being with gay people, helping the movement, helping expose the lies being told about us, correcting the notion of homosexuality as a disease and presenting it as it is, a beautiful way to love. »
The following year, Dr. Vincenz became the editor of the Mattachine Society’s monthly newsletter, The Homosexual Citizen. In 1969, she and another activist, Nancy Tucker, spun off their own newspaper, The Gay Blade, which became the Blade Washingtonthe oldest LGBTQ newspaper in the country.
Placing signs in front of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s home wasn’t the only way Dr. Vincenz was trying to bring visibility to the cause.
In 1966, Dr. Vincenz became the first lesbian appear on the cover of a national gay magazine, The Ladder, a country-produced publication »s first lesbian rights groupthe Daughters of Bilitis, according to a retrospective of her life and career by Lillian Faderman, a historian of lesbian and gay culture.
With her clean, all-American look, Dr. Vincenz looked like « every mother’s dream child, » as Barbara Gittings, the editor of The Ladder, said.
Dr. Vincenz also contributed to the cause from the other end of a camera, making two 16mm films that were later hailed as significant artifacts of the early gay rights movement.
The first, titled « Second Largest Minority », documents a protest by the Mattachine Society in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia on July 4, 1968.
To modern eyes, the roughly seven-minute black-and-white film looks anything but seismic. Looking like a home movie, it shows clean-cut protesters in office clothes marching in an orderly circle, carrying placards with messages like « Sexual preference irrelevant to occupation. »
But the protest was revolutionary for the times.
“The whole notion of gay people publicly expressing their feelings like that was beyond conceptualization until we started doing it,” Mattachine Society co-founder Franklin E told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2001. Kameny. « If we hadn’t insisted, there would have been no Stonewall. »
His second film, « Gay and Proud », documented the Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade in 1970, a commemoration of the first anniversary of the Stonewall uprising in Manhattan. The riot, following a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village, was a turning point in the gay rights movement.
« Gay and Proud » shows a much larger and hairier gathering of protesters taking a more militant stance in the parade, chanting defiantly and waving signs with messages such as « I’m a lesbian and I’m beautiful. »
In addition to providing a « vital piece of gay history, » Ms. Faderman wrote, Dr. Vincenz’s films « gave us a visual record of the astonishing distance the gay movement had traveled between 1968 and 1970. » Even the titles of the films, he added, show « how the movement stopped begging and became a challenge to the face. »
Lilli Marie Vincenz was born in Hamburg, Germany on September 26, 1937, one of two daughters of Gustav Vincenz, a prosperous engineer who died of a heart attack when Lilli was 2, and Johanna (Reinitch) Vincenz, who remarried after the World World War II and moved his family to Fort Lee, NJ in 1949.
Dr. Vincenz recognized her sexuality early on, she said in a 2008 interview, and “it became painful after a while to realize that I was gay and didn’t know any other gays. I was extremely alone.
An accomplished linguist and writer, she graduated from Douglass College, part of Rutgers University in New Jersey, in 1959, with degrees in French and German.
The following year, she earned a master’s degree in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University and planned to continue her studies for a doctoral degree. But after a stint as an editor in the book publishing industry, she decided to join the military, in part because she’d heard she was « a hotbed of gay people, » according to Ms. Faderman’s retrospective.
This alleged outbreak, however, had a policy banning gay service, and she was kicked out while training as a neuropsychiatric technician at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Bethesda, Md.
During the 1970s, Dr. Vincenz held a weekly discussion session called the Gay Women’s Open House, which functioned as a market for ideas and a sanctuary of sorts for lesbians in the Washington area. It was around this time that she began dating Nancy Ruth Davis, writer and activist who would become his companion for decades. Ms. Davis died in 2019. Dr. Vincenz left no immediate survivors.
In the 1970s, Dr. Vincenz decided to take a more intimate approach to helping gay people with their struggles. Lui holds a master’s degree in psychology from George Mason University in Virginia and has started a psychotherapy practice to meet their needs. He eventually earned a doctorate from the University of Maryland.
« I find it a privilege to work with gay people who are, in general, much more courageous, innovative and open to new ideas than the average straight person, » she told Gay Today. « A lot of their wounds have been sustained in the pursuit and validation of who they are, and not wanting to hide their identity or settle for less. »