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Tom Doerr

Thomas L. "Tom" Doerr (1947 – August 2, 1987) was an American gay activist. In 1970, he introduced the lambda symbol into the gay rights movement when the image was used to represent the political work of the Gay Activists Alliance.[1][2] The lambda became "a sign for gay liberation in general".[3]

Tom Doerr
Thomas L. Doerr

DiedAugust 2, 1987 (aged 39–40)
Known forIntroducing the lambda symbol into the gay movement
Partner(s)Marty Robinson


Early lifeEdit

Thomas L. Doerr was born in 1947 to Charles W. Doerr (1922–2002) and Elizabeth F. Doerr (1922–1994).[citation needed]


Tom Doerr's lambda

In the days after the Stonewall riots in 1969, Doerr became known as an activist who helped others understand the political implications of their actions.[4]

He was a founding member of the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA) in New York. He introduced the lambda symbol for the gay movement.[5] He meant the lambda to symbolize the liberation that was achievable through activism, the link due to the fact that in chemistry the lambda is a sign for a catalyst and in Doerr's concept it symbolized an "exchange of energy".[6][5] Originally the sign was colored chrome yellow – a reference to the Aldous Huxley novel Crome Yellow – on a dark blue field.[4][3]

In 1970 ten GAA members occupied the Republican State Committee headquarters to demand Governor Nelson Rockefeller support gay rights.[6] A Kay Lahusen photo shows Marty Robinson and Tom Doerr snuggling under an American flag.[7]

Personal lifeEdit

Tom Doerr was a lover of Martin "Marty" Robinson (1943–1992). Born in Brooklyn, Robinson attended New York University and worked as a union carpenter.[8] Robinson, writing Doerr's obituary, said:

Anything that I had been able to contribute towards human liberation (self-acceptance) came from his love. I and many of your friends, Tom, will find it much harder to stumble on without you. A somewhat reticent, gentle prophet died this week... We are crushed at losing you... Fortified in having known you.[4]

Doerr died on August 2, 1987, and is buried with his parents at Centre County Memorial Park, State College, Pennsylvania.[4]

Vito Russo designed the panel honoring Tom Doerr for the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, a blue shirt with the lambda yellow sign and underneath it the words: "In memory of Tom Doerr, Who designed the Lambda as the symbol of the Gay Liberation Movement".[6][9]


  1. ^ "1969, The Year of Gay Liberation". The New York Public Library. June 2009. Retrieved 17 November 2018.
  2. ^ Rapp, Linda (2003). "Symbols" (PDF). Retrieved 17 November 2018.
  3. ^ a b "Lambda flags (gay pride)". CRW Flags Inc. Retrieved 8 September 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d "Doerr, Thomas 13 Aug 1987". GLBT Historical Society. Retrieved 8 September 2017.
  5. ^ a b Clendinen, Dudley; Nagourney, Adam (2001). Out For Good: The Struggle to Build a Gay Rights Movement in America. Simon and Schuster. p. 56. Retrieved 10 September 2017.
  6. ^ a b c Schiavi, Michael (2011). Celluloid Activist: The Life and Times of Vito Russo. Univ of Wisconsin Press. p. 249. Retrieved 10 September 2017.
  7. ^ "Tom Doerr and Marty Robinson during Gay Activists Alliance sit-in". New York Public Library. Retrieved 10 September 2017.
  8. ^ Lambert, Bruce (1992). "Martin Robinson, Leader of Protests For Gay Rights, 49". The New York Times. Retrieved 8 September 2017.
  9. ^ "Search the Quilt". The AIDS Memorial Quilt. Retrieved 25 September 2017.

External linksEdit