Lilli Vincenz

Gay Pioneer

b. September 26, 1937


Lilli Vincenz was the first lesbian to picket at the White House and one of the pioneering protesters whose demonstration at Independence Hall launched the LGBT civil rights movement.

In April 1965, homophile activists (as they were once known), including Frank Kameny, picketed at the White House and then at the United Nations after learning that Cuba was placing homosexuals in forced labor camps. Vincenz was the only lesbian to participate.

On July 4, from 1965 to 1969, Vincenz joined Frank Kameny, Barbara Gittings, the Rev. Robert Wood and other activists from New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., in the first demonstrations specifically to demand equality for gays and lesbians. Held in front of Independence Hall, these demonstrations, known as Annual Reminders, launched the LGBT civil rights movement and paved the way for the Stonewall riot in 1969. After the 1969 Annual Reminder, its organizers turned their attention to orchestrating a march from Greenwich Village to Central Park to commemorate the first anniversary of Stonewall. The 1970 march is remembered as the first New York Pride Parade.

Born in Hamburg, Germany, Vincenz grew up during World War II. She moved to the United States with her family when she was 12. She earned bachelor's degrees in French and German and received a master's degree in English from Columbia University before enlisting in the Women's Army Corps (WAC), a branch of the U.S. Army. After serving for nine months at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, she was outed by her roommate and discharged for being gay.

“We were laying the groundwork for what we hoped would be later activism that would give homosexuals equal rights.”

Lilli Vincenz

After her discharge, she contacted Frank Kameny, who co-founded the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., (MSW), one the earliest gay rights organizations. She became one of the first lesbian members and the editor of the MSW’s inaugural newsletter, “The Homosexual Citizen.” She also joined the Daughters of Bilitis, an early lesbian rights organization.

In 1965, with Kamney leading the charge, Vincenz served in the MSW delegation that held the first meeting with the U.S. Civil Service Commission to discuss discriminatory policies toward gays and lesbians.

In 1971 Vincenz helped Kameny launch his groundbreaking campaign for Congress. He was the first openly gay person to run for public office in the country. During most of the decade, Vincenz hosted the Gay Women’s Open House in Washington to provide a safe setting for socializing and discussing gay activism and lesbian-related concerns. These meetings became the Gay Women’s Alternative. Vincenz also earned a master’s degree in psychology from George Mason University in the 1970s and practiced psychotherapy, working with lesbians and bisexual women.

In the 1980s, during the peak of the AIDS crisis, Vincenz reached out to gay men in her psychotherapy practice. In 1990 she earned a Ph.D. in human development and psychology from the University of Maryland.

Vincenz has written for numerous publications and co-founded the independent newspaper, the Gay Blade, which eventually became the Washington Blade. She has appeared on television and in films, including “Gay Pioneers,” a documentary about the Annual Reminders co-produced by WHYY/PBS and Equality Forum.  

In 2013 she donated to the Library of Congress her extensive collection of papers, writings, photographs, 16 mm films and memorabilia covering 50 years of the LGBT civil rights movement. The collection includes several iconic films she made of watershed events, including the 1968 Annual Reminder in Philadelphia and the 1970 march in New York on the first anniversary of Stonewall. Her films have contributed invaluable footage to the movement’s archives and have been excerpted in a number of documentaries including "Stonewall Uprising" (2011).

Vincenz resides in Arlington, Virginia, with her spouse, Nancy Ruth Davis. The couple were married in Key West, Florida, in 1986.

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