RAZZ Pride Icons: Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon

Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon became lovers in 1952, at the height of the McCarthy era and the ‘Lavender Scare’ (which saw gays and lesbians purged from the federal government). They soon moved to Castro Street in San Francisco, which was then not the gay hub that we know it became in the 1970s. There they founded The Daughters of Bilitis (DOB), a secret social club for lesbians, which gained ground and established resources to help the community from the struggles they faced in the outside world.

Both women had degrees in journalism and established a newsletter called The Ladder which, by 1963, would become a national magazine for gay women. Lyon and Martin advertised their work as “for the purpose of promoting the integration of the homosexual into society.” This message, as the Gay and Women’s movements grew and younger radical gays established their voices, was heavily criticised as assimilationist. However, they were both keen to critique the sexism that they saw in the more radical Gay movement, largely lead by gay men.

Martin herself went on to become the first openly gay board member of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and, in 1972, she and Lyon co-authored the influential book Lesbian/Woman. This transformed the definition of lesbian from that which referred exclusively to sexual behaviour towards a political and cultural identity. They were also both heavily involved in local politics and, as they got older, they started to focus on issues facing older gay women, founding Old Lesbians Organizing For Change in 1989.

Interestingly, they were the first same-sex couple to get married in San Francisco in 2004, but this was nullified when it was established that the Mayor who allowed it did not have the authority to do so. They were, however, the first again in 2008 when the California Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriage as legal.

Read More – Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon: The Lesbian Daughters https://medium.com/queer-history-for-the-people/del-martin-and-phyllis-lyon-the-lesbian-daughters-6b5a6db6cef9 (Quote source)


Sophie Chapman

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