Tag Archives: Daughters of Bilitis

Del Martin & Phyllis Lyon, lesbian pioneers

Del Martin 

b. May 5, 1921
August 27, 2008

Phyllis Lyon 

b. November 10, 1924


“Two extraordinary people … that have spent the greater part of a half century … fighting for their right to live the way so many of us, frankly, take for granted.

 – San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom

Wedding of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyons, 2008

Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon founded the first lesbian organization in the United States and have fought for more than 50 years for the rights of lesbians and gays. On June 16, 2008, Martin and Lyon became the first gay couple to be legally married in California.

Martin and Lyon both earned degrees in journalism. While working as journalists in Seattle, the two became romantically involved. The couple relocated to San Francisco and moved in together on Valentine’s Day 1953.

In 1955, finding it hard to develop a social network in San Francisco, Martin, Lyon and a small group of women founded the first lesbian organization, called the Daughters of Bilitis. The name was inspired by Pierre Louys’s “Songs of Bilitis,” a collection of poems celebrating lesbian sexuality.

Though it was intended to be a secret society, Martin and Lyon wanted to make the Daughters of Bilitis more visible. The group began publishing a monthly magazine, called The Ladder, which was the first-ever lesbian publication. As editors of the magazine, they capitalized the word “lesbian” every time it appeared.

In 1964, while fighting to change California sex laws criminalizing homosexuals, the couple joined religious and gay community leaders to form the Council on Religion and the Homosexual (CRH). This organization was at the forefront of the movement to gain religious support on gay rights issues. Both women served on the founding CRH board of directors.

In 2004, when gay marriage was offered in San Francisco, Martin and Lyon were the first to wed. A California appellate court ruling subsequently invalidated their marriage. Then in May 2008, a California Supreme Court decision provided same-sex couples the right to marry. On June 16, 2008, they were the first same-sex couple married in California. The wedding was officiated by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.

Martin and Lyon have published two books together, “Lesbian/Woman” (1972) and “Lesbian Love and Liberation” (1973). On their 50th anniversary, the documentary “No Secret Anymore: The Times of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon” premiered. In 2005, the National Gay and Lesbian Journalists Association inducted Martin and Lyon into the LGBT Journalists Hall of Fame for their pioneering work on The Ladder. In 2007, they received the 2007 Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) Pioneer Award.

Bibliography
Del Martin & Phyllis Lyon.” (The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Religious Archives Network).
Kornblum, Janet. “Gay Activists Blaze Trail for half century.”  USA Today. March 4, 2004

Streitmatter, Rodger.  “Phyllis Lyon & Del Martin.”  National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association: LGBT Journalists Hall of Fame.  June 5, 2008

Articles
Gordon, Rachel. “Lesbian Pioneer Activists See Wish Fulfilled.” San Francisco Chronicle. June 16, 2008

Marshall, Carolyn. “Dozens of Gay Couples Marry in San Francisco Ceremonies.” The New York Times. February 13, 2004

McKinley, Jesse. “Same-Sex Marriages Begin in California.” The New York Times. June 17, 2008

Books

Lesbian love and liberation (The Yes book of sex) (1973)
Battered Wives (1976)

Other Resources

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21 May: Frank Kameny, Gay Pioneer

 b. May 21, 1925
d. Oct 12, 2011

The momentum is there, and that’s not going to be stopped. It’s moved from hopes of a grass-roots movement, to the actuality of a grass-roots movement. And it’s taken 40 years to do it.


In 1957, the Army Map Service in Washington, D.C. dismissed astronomer Frank Kameny. Though a WWII veteran with an M.A. and Ph.D. in astronomy from Harvard University, Kameny was discharged because he was gay. Rather than accept a common practice of the times, Kameny fought for his rights. He successfully challenged anti-gay policies of the American Psychiatric Association (APA), the US Department of Defense and the US Civil Service Commission.



Kameny sued the Army Map Service and lost his case. On appeal he lost again, and after the Supreme Court denied his petition to direct the case to be reconsidered, Kameny realized his objectives would require a broader movement. In 1961, Kameny co-founded the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C with Gay Pioneer Jack Nichols.

Kameny was the first to bring open activism to the gay rights movement. The D.C. Mattachine Society contacted public officials to attempt to change policy. They published a newsletter, The Gazette, and campaigned to overturn security clearance denials, employment restrictions and dismissals of gay men from the Federal workforce. In 1963, Kameny began a movement to repeal sodomy laws and challenge the APA‘s classification of homosexuality as a mental disorder.
On April 17, 1965, Kameny led the first public picket for gay rights at the White House. With support from the Daughters of Bilitis, the Mattachine Society extended its protest to the Pentagon and the Civil Service Commission. He helped launch the first organized gay and lesbian demonstrations for equality. These seminal demonstrations by activists from New York, Philadelphia and Washingon D.C. were held annually each July 4th at Independence Hall from 1965 to 1969 and were called annual reminders. They paved the way for the Stonewall Riots in 1969.

Inspired by Stokely Carmichael’s “Black is Beautiful,” Kameny dubbed the phrase “Gay is Good” as a slogan for the movement. He led the fight for gay rights into the 1970s and ran for Congress in 1971 on an equal rights platform. The APA removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 1973 and the Civil Service Commission lifted its ban on homosexuality in 1975, an action President Bill Clinton formalized many years later.

In 2000, Equality Forum with WHYY/PBS produced the documentary film “Gay Pioneers” about Frank Kameny and other early activists. In 2006, the Library of Congress incorporated over 70,000 letters, documents and memorabilia from Frank Kameny into its permanent collection. The Washington, D.C. City Council honored Frank Kameny in 2007, hailing him as a “true freedom fighter.”


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