History-making activist and D.C.-area LGBTQ leader Lilli Vincenz dies at age 85

June 28, 2023

Rainbow History Project is saddened to learn of the death yesterday, June 27, of LGBTQ civil rights activist and community leader Lilli Vincenz. Her efforts had significant national and local impact. She was 86.

Among the most visible of her achievements, Vincenz was the only out-identified lesbian to participate in the highly documented pioneering April 1965 White House picket calling for equal rights for homosexuals.

Her long list of other accomplishments and firsts includes: Being one of the first lesbian members, if not the first, of the gay political activist group, the Mattachine Society of Washington; first woman to show her face on the cover of The Ladder, published by the Daughters of Bilitis, the first lesbian organization in the country, in January 1966; film maker of a seven-minute documentary, “The Second Largest Minority,” about an LGBTQ rights protest in Philadelphia, in 1968; co-founder with Nancy Tucker of the Gay Blade, now the Washington Blade, in 1969.

In 1971, Vincenz appeared on the David Susskind Show with six other lesbians, debating the host about gay stereotypes; the group was among the first open lesbians to appear on television.

In the early 1970s, in response to Washington-area women eager to meet other lesbians, Vincenz opened her home for a weekly Wednesday evening Gay Women’s Open House. The safe social space lasted through 1979. In the mid-1980s, now with a doctorate in psychotherapy, she co-founded the Community for Creative Self-Development for gay men and women.

Vincenz came to Washington in 1963 for stint in the U.S. Women’s Army Corps and was honorably discharged when her roommate snitched that she might be gay.

In 2012, Rainbow History Project named Vincenz a Community Pioneer in honor of her contributions nationally and in the Washington-D.C.-area.

Read the RHP Community Pioneers biography.

Read the Washington Blade obituary.

Read the Washington Post obituary.

Read the New York Times obituary.

Read a 2013 Washington Post story about Vincenz’s archival collection in the Library of Congress.

Listen to an oral history in the RHP collection.