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Remembering Kay Lahusen, Revolutionary Photojournalist

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

In the 1960s, the American Psychiatric Association still considered homosexuality a mental health disorder, and most newsstands didn't even have LGBTQ media.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

So Kay Lahusen went door to door with the publication she edited, The Ladder.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "MAKING GAY HISTORY")

KAY LAHUSEN: This was a labor of love. You got to realize you're talking to two fanatics here.

SHAPIRO: That's Lahusen on the podcast "Making Gay History." The other fanatic was Barbara Gittings, her longtime partner and fellow activist.

CHANG: They marched openly in early gay rights protests on the East Coast. They met through the first lesbian rights group in the U.S. Here's historian Alexis Coe.

ALEXIS COE: It was just immediate, you know? There's a story where, I guess, you know, Gittings thought that she was a cute little package, is what Kay told me. And they just started to date.

SHAPIRO: Barbara Gittings died in 2007, and this week, so did Kay Lahusen. But as one of the earliest openly gay photojournalists, Lahusen left behind a visual legacy.

CHANG: At those early protests, she captured signs with slogans like, gay is good and homo is healthy. She also photographed families.

COE: She loved normal scenes. She really wanted to show people who were, you know, families - two women raising children, two men raising children, people embracing, you know, experiencing joy, laughter, heartbreak.

SHAPIRO: In the early '70s, Lahusen urged the APA to include a gay psychiatrist for a panel on same-sex love. One spoke with a disguise and voice distortion. And in 1973, the APA removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses.

CHANG: For Lahusen, her activism was simply her life.

COE: This wasn't a movement for them; it was a lifestyle. And she often said, I had so much fun.

CHANG: Kay Lahusen died Wednesday. She was 91 years old. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.