Lilli Vincenz, an activist in the LGBTQ+ rights movement since the early 1960s, has died at age 85.
Vincenz died of natural causes June 27 at a care facility in Oakton, Va., the Washington Blade reports.
She became active in the movement after being outed as a lesbian in 1963, while she was serving in the Women’s Army Corps. She was discharged. She soon joined the Washington, D.C., chapter of the Mattachine Society, becoming the first known lesbian in that gay rights group, according to the Blade. In 1965, she joined its cofounder Frank Kameny and others in the first protest at the White House for equal rights for gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. She was the only lesbian marching there.
“She was certainly a pioneer in that way,” scholar and author Lillian Faderman told The Washington Post. “They couldn’t get another lesbian to show her face.”
“Sometime[s] you are the only person who can do something at a certain time,” Vincenz once said. “It’s the old question, ‘If not I, who?’”
She participated in protests at other high-profile sites, including the Pentagon, Independence Hall in Philadelphia, and the U.S. Civil Service Commission’s headquarters in D.C.
She filmed the Independence Hall protest, which took place in 1968, and went on to use her filmmaking skills to document other events in the burgeoning movement, such as the first gay rights march in New York City. It was held in 1970 to mark the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots. She donated her films and papers to the Library of Congress in 2013, and her films can be viewed on its website.
She edited the D.C. Mattachine Society’s newsletter and, with fellow lesbian activist Nancy Tucker, founded a spin-off publication called the Gay Blade, which eventually became the Washington Blade. She was involved with the early lesbian organization Daughters of Bilitis as well and appeared on the cover of its publication, The Ladder, in 1966.
An immigrant from Germany, Vincenz went to college and graduate school in the U.S. and opened a psychotherapy practice in the 1970s. Her practice initially focused on serving lesbians and bisexual women, but she had many gay men as clients at the height of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s.
Her activities also included hosting an open house for lesbians to meet one another and supporting Kameny in his campaign for D.C.’s congressional seat in 1971. He is believed to be the first out candidate for political office. He lost, but his campaign is credited with setting the stage for other LGBTQ+ candidates to run for and win elective office.
In 1992, she and longtime partner Nancy Davis founded the Community for Creative Self-Development, described as a “holistic learning community for empowering gay women and men and all gay-friendly people, creatively, spiritually, and psychologically,” according to D.C.’s Rainbow History Project. Vincenz and Davis were a couple from 1986 until Davis’s death in 2019.
Vincenz’s life and activism were chronicled in a film, Gay and Proud: Lilli’s Legacy, produced by the reconstituted Mattachine Society of Washington and viewable on YouTube. Faderman, lesbian U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, and out historian Eric Cervini are among the interviewees in the film.
Her survivors include a nephew, three nieces, and many friends, her friend Bob Brown told the Blade. A memorial service will be held later.