The founder of the first lesbian community centre has re-released her 1976 book, From the Closet to the Courts -“ The Lesbian Transition, about the persecution of gay and lesbian people.

Regarded as a historical classic, the book documents author Ruth Simpson’s struggle for LGBT rights, during a time when the modern-day gay rights movement had barely begun.

Ruth Simpson founded the New York lesbian community centre Daughters of Bilitis, New York, (DOB) in 1955. With lesbian bars considered immoral and illegal, a community centre was Simpson’s only way of providing a sense of community and dignity for lesbian women.

The establishment of the centre, Simpson told SSO, involved a number of challenges, but it created a level of self-image for lesbians that was not permitted by society.

Our culture was against it, religion, the medical community was against us and our nation was against us, she said.

We had to overcome these attitudes which we were met with at every turn. We needed either smart talking mouths, or an abundance of courtesy. But most importantly we needed to have more patience than anyone ever thought.

Daughters of Bilitis was raided by police several times between 1969 and 1971, with Simpson’s defence of the DOB women resulting in her being taken to court and, in one case, imprisoned.

Simpson organised a number of gay rights protests and demonstrations, and although the women made significant headway, Simpson stopped short of declaring it a success.

We only have one state here in the US where we can get married, and we need to fight tooth and nail to keep that much, she said.

In 39 states in this country it is illegal to fire someone for being gay. We have a long way to go. Things have not changed that much.

The gay rights movement, Simpson said, is one of the youngest, politically. And it is the biased mainstream media and the harassment of law that hampers it.

Her passion for activism against injustice stemmed from her parents, Ethel and Edward Simpson, early organisers of the labour movement.

They were tough, they were fighters and some of the -˜goodest’ people in the world, Simpson said.

I had an incredible activist background from my parents and I happened to have been born gay. If you don’t fight for who you are, you never will get to be who you are.

Simpson, who now lives in Woodstock, New York, with her partner of 36 years Ellen Povill, produces a Minority Report on public access television and is working on her next book, When Reason Sleeps.

The recently published, From the Closet to the Courts -“ The Lesbian Transition, includes a foreword by Cheryl Jacques, former president of the Human Rights Campaign, and an afterword by Simpson.

The book is published by Take Root Media and was released on 5 November. For more information go to www.fromtheclosettothecourts.com.

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