Windy City Media Group Frontpage News
Celebrating 30 Years of Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Trans News
home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2018-01-17
About WCMG Publications News Index  Entertainment Features Bars & Clubs Calendar Videos Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage



LGBT HISTORY MONTH Phyllis Lyon, Del Martin paved way for lesbians
By Alex Madison

facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

In a time when President Donald Trump has directed a ban on transgender individuals from serving in the military, his administration has rescinded protections for trans students in public schools and the advancement of LGBTQ national historic landmarks are in question, the stories of those who fought for equal rights in an earlier era seem to be more important than ever before.

One such story is that of Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, who ushered in the modern lesbian movement and made history by becoming the first same-sex couple married in San Francisco—twice. Their accomplishments as activists and the love they shared have become a symbol of perseverance, strength and hope for the LGBTQ community.

"If you got stuff you want to change, you have to get out and work on it," said 93-year-old Lyon. "You can't just sit around and say, 'I wish this or that was different.' You have to fight for it."

Lyon is still a beacon of strength, wit and charm as she reminisced about her younger years. Although Martin died in 2008 at age 87, Lyon still lives in the couple's one-bedroom home nestled in the hills of Noe Valley, which they shared for more than 50 years.

"I can't be out galloping around like I used to, getting stuff done," said Lyon as she sat in her living room during a recent interview with the Bay Area Reporter. Decades ago, the room served as a gathering place for lesbians during a time of social conformity, when the lesbian community only had a handful of bars in the Castro district in which to meet and socialize.

"Oh, gosh, we used to have dance parties here all the time," Lyon recalled, smiling.

Although Lyon said she has not considered submitting her home to become a national or local landmark after she passes, one step inside the cozy abode reveals the couple's history-making life, seen through countless pictures, knickknacks and newspaper clippings.

Kendra Mon, Martin's only child from her first marriage, remembers spending summers at the couple's home when she was a student at UC Berkeley. Over the years, Mon has come to understand the important role her mother and Lyon played in the lesbian community, something she didn't quite grasp as a young adult.

"Lesbians would call the house from all over the world," said Mon, a retired mother of two who lives in Petaluma, Calif. "A lot of their friends were scared at that time. Mom gave them a place where they could feel safe."

Wedding bells

When former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom ordered city officials to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in February 2004, the "Winter of Love" was unleashed, as images of happy gay and lesbian couples lined up outside City Hall were beamed into living rooms across the country, and around the world. But that day, Feb. 12, started off with a quieter ceremony inside a City Hall office, where Newsom married Lyon and Martin, as LGBT community leaders and others looked on.

Ultimately, the California Supreme Court ruled several months later that those 2004 marriages were invalid because Newsom had exceeded his authority. Lyon and Martin—and the thousands of others—would have to wait four more years, when the same court in May 2008 overturned Proposition 22, a same-sex marriage ban, and said that denying marriage rights to same-sex couples violated the state Constitution. Wedding bells began ringing in the Golden State in June.

( The same-sex nuptials were halted in November of that year, after state voters passed the Proposition 8 marriage ban. After years of legal wrangling, the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2013 tossed out Prop 8 on a technicality and same-sex marriages resumed in California. )

Martin and Lyon were the first same-sex couple to be married in the city in 2004 and 2008. Framed, yellowed San Francisco Chronicle articles of the couple's historic weddings grace the walls of Lyon's well-lit living room. The headlines read, "Wedding Bells to Ring in a New Era" and "The Wait is Over."

"We got it started for everybody else," Lyon said of her 2004 wedding. "We didn't get married just for us. We knew it was important to a lot of other people."

Although their first marriage was ended after 181 days, it didn't stop the couple from continuing their fight. Martin and Lyon exchanged vows again on June 16, 2008.

Martin died Aug. 27, just 74 days after again making history.

The matching pink and blue suits the couple wore are now in the permanent collection in the archives of the GLBT Historical Society.

A longtime friend of both women, Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, personally asked Lyon and Martin to be the first same-sex couple to wed in 2004.

"I called the house and Phyllis answered the phone. I told her I needed them to do one more thing for the movement," Kendell said, recalling it to be a humorous conversation, after Lyon put her on hold to ask Martin. They said yes a few minutes later.

Kendell attended both marriage ceremonies, an emotional experience for her.

"I burst into tears, as did other staffers," she said. "You knew you were a part of something historically very important standing there."

For someone who grew up in a time where lesbianism was seen as "immoral, sick and illegal," Lyon said she never believed she would live long enough to marry her "sweety-puss" and the love of her life, as she called Martin, let alone see same-sex marriage legalized nationally. But sure enough, in a landmark decision on June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples could marry in all 50 states.

"I think we've made tremendous progress," said Lyon, laughing about how she is still amazed that people don't fall over dead when she tells them she is a lesbian. The incredible accomplishments of Lyon and Martin no doubt played a role in the progress of the LGBTQ community in San Francisco and beyond. When Martin died, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ( D-San Francisco ) famously said, "We would never have marriage equality in California if it weren't for Del and Phyllis."

Earlier days

Martin began working as an activist after receiving her degree in journalism from UC Berkeley. While working at a newspaper in Seattle, Martin met Lyon in 1950 and the two began working on behalf of lesbians in their community, health-care access, advocacy on behalf of battered women and issues facing elderly Americans.

Together more than 50 years, the couple founded the Daughters of Bilitis in 1955, the first social and political organization for lesbians in the United States. In 1956, they started a newsletter called the Ladder, which grew into a publication about lesbian politics and culture and became a lifeline for hundreds of women isolated and silenced by the restrictions of the era.

Martin also became an activist for the feminist movement in 1963 when she was the first out lesbian to serve on the board of directors of the National Organization for Women. The women were pioneers, tireless activists and together a symbol of what it means to fight for equality and love in the LGBTQ community.

Their many contributions over the past five decades are credited with shaping the modern LGBT movement.

In 2005, Lyon and Martin were inducted into the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association's LGBT Journalists Hall of Fame.

"No, we are not back in the 1950s, but we are facing some of the most threatening and dangerous times, certainly in my lifetime," Kendell said of the Trump administration's lack of support of the LGBTQ community. "Phyllis and Del are examples of how you live during difficult times. I look to them as an inspiration, a north star of how you show up, you fight and be present."

Lyon plans to donate some of the items in her home to the Smithsonian Institute after she is gone, but, as Kendell said, the memory and legacy of Martin and Lyon live on through their writings, perseverance and love for one another.

Alex Madison is a freelance reporter for the Bay Area Reporter.

facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

Windy City Media Group does not approve or necessarily agree with the views posted below.
Please do not post letters to the editor here. Please also be civil in your dialogue.
If you need to be mean, just know that the longer you stay on this page, the more you help us.


Gay News

Dress Code exhibit includes Black lesbians in South Africa, dressing as a statement 2018-01-17 - The exhibit Dress Code at the Art Institute of Chicago shows in photos Black lesbians in their everyday attire. Runs through April 22, ...

Gay News

Center on Halsted to host Black History Month Series, At the Intersections 2018-01-17 - CHICAGO ( January 11, 2018 ) — Center on Halsted is proud to announce the Center will be hosting a series of Black ...

Gay News

Kelly McGillis flag-football event Jan. 22-29 2018-01-17 - Teams of women and girls from around the world are to meet for adrenaline-packed sporting events and activities Jan. 22-29 during the 27th ...

Gay News

Creating Change co-founder Sue Hyde preps her last conference 2018-01-17 - LGBTQ activist and community organizer Sue Hyde has been an esteemed co-founder of the Creating Change conference for the past 30 years. Her ...

Gay News

Maria Hadden aiming to be first Black queer Chicago alderman, in 2019 2018-01-17 - Maria Hadden has lived in Rogers Park for 10 years. It was her first neighborhood in Chicago, and after brief forays west, she ...

Gay News

TELEVISION TV special, Sighted Eyes, Feeling Heart, tells Lorraine Hansberry's story 2018-01-17 - In high school, Tracy Heather Strain's grandmother took her to see a production of Young, Gifted and Black, a play drawn from the ...

Gay News

THEATER REVIEW Insurrection: Holding History 2018-01-17 - Playwright: Robert O'Hara. At: Athenaeum Theatre, Studio Two, 2936 N. Southport Ave. Tickets:; $22-32. Runs through: Feb. 11 Insurrection: Holding History ...

Gay News

Black Lives Matter co-founder Cullors in Chicago Jan. 23 2018-01-15 - Patrisse Khan-Cullors brings her book tour to Chicago Tuesday, Jan. 23, 7 p.m., at the Wilson Abbey, 935 W. Wilson, Chicago, hosted with ...

Gay News

Tret Fure to perform folk concert Jan. 22 at Oak Park Public Library 2018-01-15 - Tret Fure Performs Folk Concert Jan. 22 at Oak Park Public Library Folk musician Tret Fure will perform a free Folk Concert on ...

Gay News

Chicago-based E3 radio goes live 24/7 2018-01-15 - After eight years of shows, E3 Radio is going live 24/7/365 from . "This is a very exciting time for us ...


Copyright © 2018 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.









About WCMG Publications News Index  Entertainment Features Bars & Clubs Calendar Videos Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage

About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots      OUT! Guide     
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Subscriptions      Distribution      Windy City Queercast     
Queercast Archives      Advertising  Rates      Deadlines      Advanced Search     
Press  Releases      Event Photos      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Post an Event      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam      Outguide Categories      Outguide Advertisers      Search Outguide      Travel      Dining Out      Blogs      Spotlight  Video     
Classifieds      Real Estate      Place a  Classified     

Windy City Media Group produces Windy City Queercast, & publishes Windy City Times,
The Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community,
Nightspots, Out! Resource Guide, and Identity.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.