Lilli Vincenz: Lebenskuntsler

Above all, Lilli Vincenz is a “lebenskuntsler”. 

And, no, that is not German for “lesbian”, although she is that, too, one of our true pioneers.

“Lebenskuntsler” is German for one who approaches their life as a work of art, a master of the art of living—one whose life, in itself, becomes a work of art.  In one of her many interviews, Lilli said, “The German word ‘lebenskuntsler’ was used quite often in my family, and it means someone who knows how to live.”

Indeed, Lilli Vincenz knew how to live!  Born in Hamburg, Nazi Germany in 1937,  she came to America in 1949.  She served in the U.S. military, became a lesbian civil rights pioneer and life-long LGBT activist (the first lesbian member of the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C.), an editor and filmmaker.  In later years, she became a psychotherapist and counselor, including a special counselor to “People with AIDS” when AIDS was hopeless; a writer, and an accomplished “fiddler”! 

In 2013, we were honored to serve as Lilli’s Personal Representative to donate (link to Library of Congress press release, July/2013)  her amazing collection of papers, photographs, memorabilia and two now-iconic films to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. where you may study them, today.  Lilli, ever a “lebenskuntsler”, wanted the materials of her well-lived life to belong to the American people.  

We have selected a few of the most interesting items from the Lilli Vincenz papers at the Library of Congress to feature on this site, including the lawsuit Bono Film and Video, Inc. v. Arlington County Human Rights Commission (2006).   We are excited to publish a new analysis of this lawsuit by our pro bono legal counsel and partner McDermott Will & Emery, “‘Gay and Proud, Groundbreaking Film Leads to Modern Non-Discrimination Legal Battle”. 

To mark this year, the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, we dedicate this site and the “re-release” of “Gay and Proud” (shot in 1970, one year after Stonewall at the first Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade) to Lilli Vincenz and all those who will be inspired by her life art.   Our special thanks go to Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and historian/author Lillian Faderman for joining us in this project!


Charles Francis

Pate Felts

Mattachine Society of Washington, DC