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Lesbian icon Phyllis Lyon dies at 95
2020-04-09

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Activist Phyllis Lyon—who spent more than five decades fighting for LGBTQ rights—died of natural causes. She was 95.

CNN.com reported that California Gov. Gavin Newsom shared the news of Lyon's death in a post on Twitter on April 9, calling her a "dear friend." Newsom officiated the wedding between Lyon and her late partner Del Martin in 2008, when he was mayor of San Francisco. ( Lyon and Martin were initially married by Newsom in February 2004. ) Martin passed away in 2008, at age 87.

Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1924, Lyon met Martin in San Francisco in 1950. In 1955, Martin, Lyon and several other women formed the Daughters of Bilitis, generally recognized as the first national lesbian organization in the country. There were chapters in several cities, including Chicago, within the organization's first few years—and the late lesbian icon Barbara Gittings formed the New York chapter after meeting Lyon and Martin.

In 1972, the couple in 1972 were among the first members of the Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club. That same year, they authored the groundbreaking book Lesbian Woman.

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

In a 2017 LGBT History Month piece that Windy City Times ran, Lyon said she planned to donate some of the items in her home to the Smithsonian Institute after she is gone. However, as fellow activist Kate Kendell said in that same article, the memory and legacy of Martin and Lyon live on through their writings, perseverance and love for one another.

Pro-LGBTQ groups commented on Lyon's passing. "Phyllis Lyon was a giant. She was an icon, a trailblazer, a pioneer, a role model, and a friend to the many of us who looked up to her," said National Center for Lesbian Rights ( NCLR ) Executive Director Imani Rupert-Gordon in a statement. "Her activism changed what we thought was possible, and her strength inspired us. Her vision helped forge our path and made organizations like NCLR possible. And although the path is lonelier without her, we know the way because of her."

Kendell, a former NCLR executive director, added, "Phyllis Lyon is truly an iconic figure in the history of LGBTQ and women's rights. Her life was marked by courage and the tenacious belief that the world must and could change."

In a separate statement, Los Angeles LGBT Center Chief of Staff Darrel Cummings said, "There are many who can rightfully claim that they helped build the modern movement for LGBTQ rights. But among those many pioneers, there are few who can claim so central a role as Phyllis Lyon and her wife Del. While the loss of Phyllis makes this a profoundly sad day, I hope we can focus on the groundbreaking impact she and Del had on our community from the founding of the Daughters of Bilitis to their hard-fought battles to transform the National Organization for Women ( NOW ) into a lesbian-inclusive organization and their activism on behalf of LGBTQ seniors."

Lyon's family is planning a celebration of her life. The family requests that gifts in honor of Phyllis be made to the Lyon-Martin Health Clinic: www.gofundme.com/f/save-lyonmartin-amp-womens-community-clinic .


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