Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon

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Wedding of Martin and Lyon, 2008
Martin and Lyon after their first wedding, 2004

Dorothy Louise Taliaferro "Del" Martin (May 5, 1921 – August 27, 2008)[1] and Phyllis Ann Lyon (November 10, 1924 – April 9, 2020)[2][3] were an American lesbian couple based in San Francisco who were known as feminist and gay-rights activists.[1]

Martin and Lyon met in 1950, became lovers in 1952, and moved in together on Valentine's Day 1953 in an apartment on Castro Street in San Francisco. They had been together for three years when they cofounded the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB) in San Francisco in 1955. This became the first social and political organization for lesbians in the United States and soon had a national reach. They both acted as president and until 1963 successively as editor of The Ladder magazine, which they also founded. They were involved in the DOB until they joined the National Organization for Women (NOW), the first known lesbian couple to do so.

Both women worked to form the Council on Religion and the Homosexual (CRH) at Glide Memorial Methodist Church in northern California to persuade ministers to accept homosexuals into churches. The couple used their influence to decriminalize homosexuality in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They became politically active in San Francisco's first gay political organization, the Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club. This group influenced then-mayor Dianne Feinstein to sponsor a citywide bill to outlaw employment discrimination for gays and lesbians. Both women remained politically active, later serving in the White House Conference on Aging in 1995.

They were married on February 12, 2004, in the first same-sex wedding to take place in San Francisco after Mayor Gavin Newsom ordered the city clerk to begin providing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. That marriage was voided by the California Supreme Court on August 12, 2004.[4]

After the California Supreme Court's decision in In re Marriage Cases legalized same-sex marriage in California, the couple married again on June 16, 2008. Theirs was the first same-sex wedding to take place in San Francisco .[4] Two months later on August 27, 2008, Martin died in San Francisco from complications of an arm bone fracture. [5] Lyon died years later on April 9, 2020.[1][3][6]

Del Martin[edit]

Del Martin
Del Martin in 1972
Dorothy Louise Taliaferro

(1921-05-05)May 5, 1921
DiedAugust 27, 2008(2008-08-27) (aged 87)
San Francisco, California, U.S.
EducationUniversity of California, Berkeley
San Francisco State University (BA)
Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality (MA, DArts)
Known forDaughters of Bilitis
James Martin
(m. 1940; div. 1944)
Phyllis Lyon
(m. 2004; voided 2004)
(m. 2008)
ChildrenKendra Mon

Del Martin was born as Dorothy Louise Taliaferro on May 5, 1921, in San Francisco. She was the first salutatorian to graduate from George Washington High School. She was educated at the University of California, Berkeley and at San Francisco State College, where she studied journalism. She earned a Doctor of Arts degree from the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality. She was married for four years to James Martin and retained his name after their divorce.[7][8] She had one daughter, Kendra Mon. Martin died on August 27, 2008, at UCSF Hospice in San Francisco, from complications of an arm bone fracture. She was 87 years old.[1] Her wife, Phyllis, was at her side. San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom ordered that the flags at City Hall be flown at half-staff in her honor.[9]

In 1977, Martin became an associate of the Women's Institute for Freedom of the Press (WIFP).[10] WIFP is an American nonprofit publishing organization. The organization works to increase communication among women and connect the public with forms of women-based media.[citation needed]

Martin was also one of the founders of the Lesbian Mothers Union.[11]

Phyllis Lyon[edit]

Phyllis Lyon
Lyon in 2008
Phyllis Ann Lyon

(1924-11-10)November 10, 1924
DiedApril 9, 2020(2020-04-09) (aged 95)
EducationUniversity of California, Berkeley (BA)
Known forDaughters of Bilitis
Del Martin
(m. 2004; voided 2004)
(m. 2008)

Phyllis Lyon was born on November 10, 1924, in Tulsa, Oklahoma.[12] She held a degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley, earned in 1946. During the 1940s, she worked as a reporter for the Chico Enterprise-Record, and during the 1950s, she worked as part of the editorial staff of two Seattle magazines.[8]

On June 26, 2015, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled gay marriage legal, the 90-year-old Lyon "laughed and laughed when told the news. 'Well how about that?' she said. 'For goodness' sakes.'"[13] She died on April 9, 2020, at the age of 95.[3]


Martin and Lyon met in Seattle in 1950 when they began working for the same magazine. They became lovers in 1952 and entered into a partnership in 1953 when they moved to San Francisco together.[7][8][12] 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."[14]

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.[15]

The license, along with those of several thousand other same-sex couples, was voided by the California Supreme Court on August 12, 2004.[3]

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.

— Phyllis Lyon

However, they were married again on June 16, 2008, after the California Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage was legal.[5] Once again they were the first couple married in San Francisco, in fact the only couple married that day by the mayor.[16]


Daughters of Bilitis[edit]

In 1955, Martin and Lyon and six other lesbian women formed the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB), the first national lesbian organization in the United States.[3][17] 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. She was succeeded by other editors until the newsletter ended its connection with the Daughters of Bilitis in 1970.[7][8]

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.[15] For their pioneering work on The Ladder, Martin and Lyon were among the first inductees into the LGBT Journalists Hall of Fame, which was established in 2005 by the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association. Lyon and Martin remained involved in the DOB until the late 1960s. The Daughters of Bilitis, which had taken a conservative approach to helping lesbians deal with society, disbanded in 1970 due to the rise of more radical activism.[15]

National Organization for Women[edit]

Martin and Lyon were active in the National Organization for Women (NOW) since 1967. Del Martin was the first open lesbian elected to the board of directors of NOW.[3][18][19] In 1970, she signaled in an essay the split of lesbian feminists from the male-dominated gay rights movement, characterizing the leaders of that movement as "hollow men of self-proclaimed privilege. They neither speak for us nor to us."[20] 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.[15]

San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women[edit]

In 1977 "Del" Martin was the first openly gay woman to be appointed to the SFCOSW by then Mayor George R. Moscone. [18][19] Martin joined forces with other minority SFCOSW Commissioners, such as Kathleen Hardiman Arnold (now Kathleen Rand Reed), and Ella Hill Hutch, the first Black woman to be elected to the Board of Supervisors, to focus on the nexus of gay women's rights and racial and ethnic discrimination. In their later work with a health clinic, Martin and Lyon focused, for instance, on the specific health and issues affecting Black and Latina gay women. Martin was ahead of her time in understanding the cultural aspects of gay health.[citation needed]

Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club[edit]

Lyon and Martin were both active in San Francisco's first gay political organization, the Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club, named after San Francisco-born author Alice B. Toklas.[21][22]

Lyon-Martin Health Services[edit]

Lyon-Martin Health Services was founded in 1979[23] by a group of medical providers and health activists as a clinic for lesbians who lacked access to non-judgmental and 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, as well as services for transgender people.[24]

Senior activists[edit]

Pantsuits worn by Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon to their weddings in San Francisco in 2004 and 2008; on display at the GLBT History Museum, 4127 18th St., San Francisco. Photo: GLBT Historical Society.

In 1989, Martin and Lyon joined Old Lesbians Organizing for Change. In 1995 they were named delegates to the White House Conference on Aging, Martin by Senator Dianne Feinstein and Lyon by Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, both from California.[25]


Books are written by both Martin and Lyon except where noted:

  • Lesbian/Woman (1972), about lesbian life in modern America
  • Lesbian Love and Liberation (1973), about lesbians and sexual liberty
  • Battered Wives (1979), by Martin, blamed American domestic violence on institutionalized misogyny[15]


Documentary films[edit]

In 2003 filmmaker JEB (Joan E. Biren) released a documentary film on the couple, No Secret Anymore: The Times of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, available from Frameline.[26]

The 1993 documentary Last Call at Maud's also featured Martin and Lyon.[27]


In 2014, Martin was one of the inaugural honorees in the Rainbow Honor Walk, a walk of fame in San Francisco's Castro neighborhood noting LGBTQ people who have "made significant contributions in their fields."[28][29][30]

In June 2019, Martin was one of the inaugural fifty American "pioneers, trailblazers, and heroes" inducted and listed on the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor within the Stonewall National Monument in New York City's Stonewall Inn.[31][32]

The Monument is the first U.S. national monument dedicated to LGBTQ rights and history.[33] The wall's unveiling was timed to take place during the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.[34]

In June 2020, Lyon was added to the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor.[35]

Popular culture[edit]

Rosie O'Donnell plays Martin and Maddie Corman plays Lyon in the miniseries about LGBT rights called When We Rise.[36]

Season 3, episode 7 of the podcast Making Gay History is about Martin and Lyon.[37]

Shannon Purser plays Martin and Heather Matarazzo plays Lyon in the HBO Max series Equal, formally announced on August 24, 2020.

Archival sources[edit]

The extensive records of Lyon and Martin's professional and activist pursuits, including the administrative files of the Daughters of Bilitis, are preserved at the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco. The collection is fully processed and is available for use by researchers. The Online Archive of California (a project of the California Digital Library) offers the complete finding aid.[38]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Gordon, Rachel (August 28, 2008). "Del Martin: 1921-2008: Lesbian rights pioneer Del Martin dies at 87". San Francisco Chronicle.
  2. ^ Barmann, Jay (April 9, 2020). "SF Lesbian Pioneer Phyllis Lyon dies at age 95". SFist. Archived from the original on April 17, 2020. Retrieved April 9, 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Carmel, Julia (April 10, 2020). "Phyllis Lyon, Lifelong Lesbian Activist, Dies at 95". The New York Times. Retrieved April 10, 2020.
  4. ^ a b Lagos, Marisa (June 16, 2008). "Newsom Marries Activist Couple". Retrieved June 16, 2008.
  5. ^ a b Grimes, William (August 27, 2008). "Del Martin, Lesbian Activist, Dies at 87". The New York Times. Retrieved April 10, 2020.
  6. ^ Lesbian pioneer Phyllis Lyon dies
  7. ^ a b c Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Del Martin". About. Archived from the original on May 20, 2006. Retrieved February 11, 2007.
  8. ^ a b c d "Del Martin & Phyllis Lyon". The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Religious Archives Network. August 4, 2005. Retrieved February 11, 2007.
  9. ^ Gordon, Rachel (August 28, 2008). "Lesbian rights pioneer Del Martin dies at 87". San Francisco Chronicle.
  10. ^ "Associates | The Women's Institute for Freedom of the Press". Retrieved June 21, 2017.
  11. ^ Adams, Guy (August 28, 2008). "Pioneering lesbian rights activist dies just weeks after wedding". The Independent. Retrieved December 7, 2019.
  12. ^ a b Belge, Kathy. "Phyllis Lyon". About. Archived from the original on February 13, 2007. Retrieved February 11, 2007.
  13. ^ Dolan, Maura and Lee Romney (June 26, 2015). "Same-sex marriage rights in trailblazing California now extend to all". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 19, 2017.
  14. ^ Hull, Anne. "Just Married, After 51 Years Together; Activist Gay Couple Accepts Leading Role." The Washington Post. Washington, D.C.: February 29, 2004. p. A.01.
  15. ^ a b c d e Gianoulis, Tina (March 4, 2004). "Lyon, Phyllis, and Del Martin". glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture. Archived from the original on February 16, 2007. Retrieved February 11, 2007.
  16. ^ "Big Day For Lesbian Couple Of 55 Years". June 16, 2008. Archived from the original on July 2, 2008. Retrieved June 16, 2008.
  17. ^ Asmelash, Leah; Passantino, Jon (April 10, 2020). "Phyllis Lyon, famed LGBTQ activist, dies". CNN. Retrieved April 10, 2020.
  18. ^ a b Yaeger, Lynn (May 5, 2017). "For Del Martin, Lesbian Rights Pioneer, the Last Act of Activism Was the Most Personal". Vogue. Retrieved April 10, 2020.
  19. ^ a b Haggerty, George; Zimmerman, Bonnie (September 2, 2003). Encyclopedia of Lesbian and Gay Histories and Cultures. Taylor & Francis. p. 488. ISBN 9781135578701. Retrieved April 10, 2020.
  20. ^ Self, Robert O. (2012). All In the Family: The Realignment of American Democracy Since the 1960s (First ed.). New York: Hill and Wang. pp. 179–180. ISBN 978-0-8090-9502-5. OCLC 768728945.
  21. ^ Stelloh, Tim (April 9, 2020). "Pioneering lesbian activist Phyllis Lyon dies at 95". NBC News. Retrieved April 10, 2020.
  22. ^ Shafer, Scott (April 9, 2020). "Phyllis Lyon, LGBT Rights Pioneer, Dies at 95". KQED. Retrieved April 10, 2020.
  23. ^ "The Bay Area Reporter Online - Lesbian pioneers first in city to wed". Bay Area Reporter. Retrieved November 15, 2014.
  24. ^ Madison, Alex (April 4, 2018). "New leaders named for Lyon-Martin clinic". Bay Area Reporter. Retrieved April 10, 2020.
  25. ^ "Del Martin Obituary - Equality California". Archived from the original on December 24, 2014. Retrieved November 15, 2014.
  26. ^ "No Secret Anymore: The Times of Del Martin & Phyllis Lyon". Frameline. Archived from the original on April 11, 2020. Retrieved April 10, 2020.
  27. ^ "Last Call at Maud's". Frameline. Archived from the original on April 11, 2020. Retrieved April 10, 2020.
  28. ^ Shelter, Scott (March 14, 2016). "The Rainbow Honor Walk: San Francisco's LGBT Walk of Fame". Quirky Travel Guy. Retrieved July 28, 2019.
  29. ^ "Castro's Rainbow Honor Walk Dedicated Today: SFist". SFist - San Francisco News, Restaurants, Events, & Sports. September 2, 2014. Archived from the original on August 10, 2019. Retrieved August 13, 2019.
  30. ^ Carnivele, Gary (July 2, 2016). "Second LGBT Honorees Selected for San Francisco's Rainbow Honor Walk". We The People. Retrieved August 12, 2019.
  31. ^ Glasses-Baker, Becca (June 27, 2019). "National LGBTQ Wall of Honor unveiled at Stonewall Inn". Retrieved June 28, 2019.
  32. ^ SDGLN, Timothy Rawles-Community Editor for (June 19, 2019). "National LGBTQ Wall of Honor to be unveiled at historic Stonewall Inn". San Diego Gay and Lesbian News. Archived from the original on June 21, 2019. Retrieved June 21, 2019. {{cite web}}: |first= has generic name (help)
  33. ^ "Groups seek names for Stonewall 50 honor wall". The Bay Area Reporter / B.A.R. Inc. Retrieved May 24, 2019.
  34. ^ "Stonewall 50". San Francisco Bay Times. April 3, 2019. Retrieved May 25, 2019.
  35. ^ "New honorees named for Nat'l LGBTQ Wall of Honor at Stonewall Inn". Windy City Times. June 30, 2020. Retrieved July 1, 2020.
  36. ^ Goldberg, Leslie (April 26, 2016). "ABC's Gay Rights Mini Enlists Michael K. Williams, Sets All-Star Guest Cast". The Hollywood Reporter. United States: Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved April 27, 2016.
  37. ^ "Season Three". Making Gay History. October 11, 1988. Retrieved April 27, 2020.
  38. ^ "Guide to the Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin Papers, 1924-2000". Online Archive of California. Retrieved April 10, 2020.

Further reading[edit]

  • Bullough, Vern L. (ed.) Before Stonewall: Activists for Gay and Lesbian Rights in Historical Context, Harrington Park Press, 2002.
  • Gallo, Marcia M. Different Daughters: A History of the Daughters of Bilitis and the Rise of the Lesbian Rights Movement, Carroll & Graf, 2006; Seal Press, 2007.

External links[edit]