An iconic figure in the American gay rights movement, Barbara Gittings, has died aged 74.

Gittings helped found the New York chapter of lesbian rights organisation Daughters of Bilitis in 1958, and was one of the first openly gay women to gain media attention.

She was also instrumental in persuading the American Psychiatric Association to stop viewing homosexuality as a mental disorder in the 1970s.

She was editor of lesbian review publication The Ladder from 1963 to 1966, and took part in early 1960s protests in Washington in favour of gay rights.

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, which promotes fair and accurate representation of LGBT lives and issues in the US media, named an award after her.

Gittings was a familiar activist in the early days of the gay rights movement in America, often appearing on television as an out lesbian.

She also campaigned to persuade libraries to carry gay content.

Gittings sat on American Library Association’s Gay Task Force. The association presented her its highest honour, a lifetime membership, four years ago.

Gittings lived with her partner Kay Lahusen in Philadelphia for over 40 years. She died yesterday from breast cancer.

Commenting on her own life, Gittings said:

“I’ve had the satisfaction of working with other gay people all across the country to get the bigots off our backs, to oil the closet door hinges, to change prejudiced hearts and minds, and to show that gay love is good for us and for the rest of the world too.”