Tuesday, June 17, 2008


Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, photo by Jill Posener

More than 50 years ago, Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin fell in love with each other. At that time in history, to be a lesbian meant you could be arrested (not for any particular behavior, just for being who you were), fired from your job, evicted, and forced into electroshock treatment. It's astonishing enough they found each other at all. But when you read about their life together ---

Del had been married for four years and had a daughter. After she was divorced, she and Phyllis met in Seattle in 1950 when they began working for the same magazine. According to Wikipedia, "They became lovers in 1952 and entered into a formal partnership in 1953 when they moved to San Francisco together although unable to legally marry. Many years later, Lyon and Martin recalled how they learned to live together in 1953. 'We really only had problems our first year together. Del would leave her shoes in the middle of the room, and I'd throw them out the window,' said Lyon, to which Martin responded, 'You'd have an argument with me and try to storm out the door. I had to teach you to fight back.'"

(Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin after being married in San Francisco on 12 February 2004)

"On February 12, 2004, Martin and Lyon were issued a marriage license by the City and County of San Francisco after mayor Gavin Newsom ordered that marriage licenses be given to same-sex couples who requested them. The license, along with those of several thousand other same-sex couples were voided by the California Supreme Court on August 12 2004."

At that time, Phyllis wrote: "Del is 83 years old and I am 79. After being together for more than 50 years, it is a terrible blow to have the rights and protections of marriage taken away from us. At our age, we do not have the luxury of time."

"In 1955, Martin and Lyon and six other lesbian women formed the Daughters of Bilitis, the first major lesbian organization in the United States. Lyon was the first editor of DOB's newsletter, The Ladder, beginning in 1956. Martin took over editorship of the newsletter from 1960 to 1962, and was then replaced by other editors until the newsletter ended its connection with the Daughters of Bilitis in 1970.

"Within five years of its origin, the Daughters of Bilitis had chapters around the country, including Chicago, New York, New Orleans, San Diego, Los Angeles, Detroit, Denver, Cleveland and Philadelphia. There were 500 subscribers to The Ladder, but far more readers, as copies were circulated among women who were reluctant to put their names to a subscription list.

"Lyon and Martin remained leaders of the DOB until the late 1960s, when they were replaced by women who were perceived as more radical and who had different goals for the organization. The Daughters of Bilitis disbanded not long after Martin and Lyon's leadership ended."

In 1967, Lyon and Martin became active in NOW. "Del Martin was the first openly lesbian woman elected to NOW. Lyon and Martin worked to combat the homophobia they perceived in NOW, and encouraged the National Board of Directors of NOW's 1971 resolution that lesbian issues were feminist issues."

In 1972, the two women joined the just-formed Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club, whose purpose is "to support candidates, who are supportive of gay and lesbian rights, get elected to public office...In 1975 the club endorsed George Moscone for mayor over Dianne Feinstein."

Also in 1972, Lyon and Martin published Lesbian/Woman, a book about lesbian life in modern America, which became the definitive work on the subject for years. In 1973, they released Lesbian Love and Liberation, about lesbians and sexual liberty.

In 1979, Martin wrote Battered Wives, which blamed American domestic violence on institutionalized misogyny. Also in 1979, "Lyon-Martin Health Services was founded by a group of medical providers and health activists as a clinic for lesbians who lacked access to nonjudgmental, affordable health care. Named after Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, the clinic soon became a model for culturally sensitive community-based health care. Since 1993, Lyon-Martin also has provided case management and primary healthcare in programs specifically designed for very low-income and uninsured women with HIV . In 2007, the organization added sliding-scale mental health services."

In 1989, Martin and Lyon joined Old Lesbians Organizing for Change. In 1995 Martin and Lyon were named delegates to the White House Conference on Aging by Senator Dianne Feinstein and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi respectively.

In 2003 filmmaker Joan E. Biren (JEB) released a documentary film on the couple, No Secret Anymore: The Times of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, available from Frameline.

Now 87 (Martin) and 84 (Lyon), they were everyone's choice as the first couple to be married in San Francisco yesterday after the historic court ruling on May 15 made California the second state to allow same-sex marriages. Mayor Gavin Newsom, who married the couple in 2004, personally presided over this second (hopefully forever legal) marriage.

How many couples can you name who have been happily together for 56 years, devoting their lives to every cause they could find which increased freedom for others?

(Pastry chef Elizabeth Falkner puts the final touches on the wedding cake of Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin at City Hall, 16 June 2008. The cake was topped by a vintage photo of Lyon and Martin as a young couple. AP Photo by Eric Risberg.)

(People crowd the balcony outside San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's office to catch a glimpse of Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin after they became the first same-sex couple to be legally married at City Hall in San Francisco, Monday, June 16, 2008. AP Photo by Eric Risberg)

(Robin Tyler and Diane Olson are married at the Beverly Hills Courthouse, Monday, June 16, 2008, in Beverly Hills, Calif. AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)

Others who were first in line to get married in California today include Robin Tyler and Diane Olsen. Robin Tyler has been a pioneer organizer for decades, founding the West Coast Women's Music Festival and countless other events, as well as always giving dynamic speeches about lesbian and gay liberation whenever possible. I remember her as a tough butch in leather. When I found these photos of their wedding today, I wept.

Also married today were Shelly Bailes and Ellen Pontac, first same-sex marriage in Yolo County, California.

(Shelly Bailes, right, and Ellen Pontac, left, hold each other's hands as Yolo County Clerk/Recorder Freddie Oakley performs their wedding ceremony at her office in Woodland, Calif., Monday, June 16, 2008. AP Photo by Rich Pedroncelli)

(In this March 4, 2008 file photo, Diane Sabin and her girlfriend Jewelle Gomez holds hands as they watch the California gay marriage court hearing on closed circuit television at the San Francisco Library in San Francisco, Tuesday, March 4, 2008. AP Photo by Marcio Jose Sanchez)

(Afi Wikins, left, and her partner Quesha Landers smile after making their appointment for a marriage license at city hall in San Francisco, California, May 16, 2008. REUTERS/Kimberly White)

The waiting crowd outside City Hall, San Francisco, on 16 June, 2008.



kat said...

Yup...Gavin Newsom gave a toast after he officiated the wedding. It was really cool that Del and Phyllis's ceremony got so much publicity and that Gav recognized their importance and legacy.

The news last night was all atwitter about the weddings, and Channel 7 (ABC affiliate) at least was wonderfully free of that tone of voice that newscasters use when you can tell they don't like something. It was very supportive and there were reporters at various City Halls around the area. Oakland's new-ish mayor Ron Dellums officiated a ceremony, too, that time for a couple who work at Oakland City Hall.

Anyway, I'm rambling, but yes, I wept while watching, as well.

kat said...

I'm sure there's a story behind adding "Reid" in your signature....

Maggie Jochild said...

The Obamabots who cannot talk of anything else (did you see that suit he had on today, wasn't it incredible?!!!) can be spotted immediately because they use Hussein as a middle name. As if that does any goddamned thing at all to alter Muslim hatred.

But hey, if the sign of a true follower is to adopt our choice for President's middle name as our own, well, John Reid Edwards needs to show up in my moniker. Right?

Pass it on.