Barbara Gittings has been a gay rights activist since 1958 when she started the New York chapter of the lesbian organization Daughters of Bilitis (DOB). She edited DOB's national magazine The Ladder from 1963 to 1966. Barbara marched in the first gay and lesbian civil rights demonstrations held annually from 1965-1969 at The White House, Pentagon and Independence Hall.
From 1971 to 1986, Gittings headed the Gay Task Force of the American Library Association (ALA). She edited its Gay Bibliography and other gay/lesbian reading lists as well as wrote a brief history of the group, Gays in Library Land. She was in the group's gay kissing booth, "Hug a Homosexual," at the 1971 ALA national convention in Dallas. Her campaign to promote gay materials and eliminate gay invisibility in libraries was recognized by an honorary lifetime membership conferred by the ALA in 2003.
In the 1970s, Barbara served on the boards of the National Gay Task Force (now National Gay & Lesbian Task Force) and the Gay Rights National Lobby (forerunner of the Human Rights Campaign). In the 1970s, Gittings promoted gay/lesbian visibility at annual conventions of the American Psychiatric Association with exhibits such as "Homophobia: Time for Cure" and "Gay Love: Good Medicine".
Barbara and her life partner Kay Lahusen continue to be active in LGBT civil rights.