Task Force on Gay Liberation


Task Force on Gay Liberation for the American Libraries Association.

Collection of 8 documents from 1970-1982 relating to the foundation of the Task Force on Gay Liberation, part of the American Library Association, including several editions of A Gay Bibliography. In good condition with very occasional marginal annotations.


The Task Force on Gay Liberation was the first professional organization in the USA to focus on LGBTQ+ issues. The group was founded in June 1970 at the American Library Association’s (ALA) annual meeting in Detroit, in tandem with the Detroit chapter of the Gay Liberation Front. The Task Force promoted discussion of the experiences of LGBTQ+ individuals within the library profession, but also sought to address the accessibility of books related to LGBTQ+ subjects for the queer patrons of libraries across the USA. In 1970, a large part of the work involved was dedicated to balancing harmful stigmas and negative portrayals of queer people. In addition, the Task Force questioned the ways in which those materials were catalogued, which by Dewey and Library of Congress standards relegated same sex-desire and gender non-conformity to criminal activity and “mental derangement.” This small collection documents momentous change: the press releases and revisions of A Gay Bibliography chart the rise of libraries as politically engaged spaces, and highlight the role of librarians in widening access to information through more inclusive cataloguing practices. The Task Force has since been renamed to the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table (GLBTRT), and continues its important work. As James V. Carmichael writes in Daring to Find Our Names: The Search for Lesbigay Library History:

Since [1970], the energies of ALA’S Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Task Force (GLBTF) have been devoted largely to service concerns for lesbigay patrons, the development of nonpejorative subject headings and classification schemes, the bibliographic control and promotion of lesbigay literature, both through the annual programs of the GLBTF and its annual Gay Book Awards.The ALA has practiced nondescrimination against lesbigays through its own employment policies since 1974…Librarianship generally has acted only as de facto midwife to the lesbigay movement, often unwittingly and sometimes unwittingly. (2).

I.) “FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE,” 15 July 1970. 2 stapled leaves.

A press release announcing the formation of the Task Force on Gay Liberation within the Social Responsibilities Round Table (SRRT) at the ALA conference in Detroit, noting the foundation of the SRRT in 1969 “in response to demands for a forum for social activists in the profession.” Its coordinator, Bill DeJohn, is credited with announcing the formation of the Task Force at the ALA Council meeting on Friday, 3 July 1970. In addition, a letter addressed “Dear Friends,” gives context: “It is being sent to you either because of your expressed interest in our activities or because of your past history of fairness, open-mindedness and social concern.” It is signed “With Peace and Love,” from the Task Force, and on the ALA stationary the contact is designated as George Hathaway, Secretary to the SRRT, based at Brooklyn College Library.

II.) “FOR YOUR INFORMATION,” 17 September 1970. 1 leaf.

An announcement summarizing the second meeting of the Task Force, this time in New York City, and a working statement of its goals, both “General” (i.e. “To work towards the repeal of laws which oppress the homosexual.”) and “As Librarians” (i.e. “To have freedom from job discrimination based on sexual orientation”). It advertises its next meeting and the contact listed is Task Force founding father Israel Fishman (1930-2006), a gay Jewish activist who had worked at both the Jewish Theological Seminar library, Richmand College, and Upsala College.

III.) “News Announcement for Gay Press and Organizations,” 25 May 1971. 1 leaf.

A press release meant for circulation outside the profession: “GAY TASK FORCE TO LIBERATE LIBRARIES,” describing the work of the group relating to potential library patrons. “The group’s aim is to revolutionize libraries in meeting the needs of gay people.” Initiatives described include the presentation of the First Annual Gay Book award at the ALA conference that year in Dallas, TX, which coincided with the city’s gay pride week. Events celebrated included an open house, a forum on religion and homosexuality, a “hug-a-homosexual” booth, and lecturers including Barbara Gittings (future Task Force president) on “Sex and the Single Cataloguer: New Thoughts on Some Unthinkable Subjects.” Finally, and in keeping with just about any queer events program throughout history: “The week’s activities will be climaxed by a gay dance.” These press releases did circulate in the wider world of queer self-publishing, for instance the December 1973 issue of Sisters, the lesbian-feminist magazine of the San Francisco Chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis has a page about the Task Force and advertising their bibliography with their Philadelphia address, as well as a few recommendations of books later in the issue based on A Gay Bibliography.

IV.-VII) A Gay Bibliography, Second Revision, June 1972, 2 pp; Third Revision, January 1974, 4 pp.; Fifth Edition, Summer 1975 6 pp + 2 pp. supplement inserted; Six Edition, March 1980, 16 pp.

A visibly expanding selection of books, periodicals, pamphlets, and articles related to LGBTQ+ history, politics, and experience, all non-fiction and many of them published by small presses that flourished among feminists within the Women’s Liberation Movement, and queers after the Stonewall riots. The second revision (1972) advertises the first Gay Book Award, Isabel Miller’s historical novel A Place for Us, “then published in a private edition and now re-published by McGraw Hill as Patiences and Sarah,” a testament to how collective action surrounding publication and distribution could make a difference in the publishing industry. Correspondence, particularly concerning a “longer, annotated bibliography” is directed toward the activist and librarian Barbara Gittings in Philadelphia, who took over coordinating the Task Force after Israel Fishman. The Third Revision (1974) expands to include audio-visual material and directories like the Gayellow Pages. It also features a “Special Collection, 1811-197” of books for sale from the Arno Press in New York, and notes the Task Force’s influence among the professions, listing other professional groups including the Association of Gay Psychologists; the Gay Nurses Alliance and the Gay Teachers Caucus. The Sixth Edition (1980), most likely in response to the beginning of the AIDS crisis, separates information about health and sexual transmitted diseases into its own, much expanded section on Human Sciences, and begins to separate its non-fiction into subject headings more generally, including History, Biography, and Law and Civil Rights. These four revisions document an inspiring emergence of the Queer publishing movement, and show the important role libraries—like bookstores—played in its success.

VIII.) “GAY TASK FORCE PUBLICATIONS,” Autumn 1982, 1 leaf. 

An advertisement for a few articles and pamphlets, including the sixth edition of A Gay Bibliography with a long note on the failure to produce a supplement to the edition: “New gay-related books, articles, pamphlets, films and other materials are appearing so fast it’s hard to keep up. (List makes’ plight = readers’ delight!).”


James Vinson Carmichael, ed. Daring to Find Our Names: The Search for Lesbigay Library History (Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1998).

GLBTRT History Timeline, American Library Association, (http://www.ala.org/rt/glbtrt/about/history).

Brooke Palmieri