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Phyllis Lyon & Del Martin, Lesbian Activist Partners

Updated on December 11, 2014

Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin were legendary American activists who fought for lesbian rights and advocates for the LBGT community. Both founded the first lesbian organization Daughters of Bilitis (DOB) along with a group of lesbian women in San Francisco, United States in 1955. The Daughters of Bilitis is taken from a lesbian love poetry book from the 19th century. Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin were also iconic couple because they have been together for 56 years. Del Martin was born with the name Dorothy Louise Taliaferro in San Francisco, California on May 5, 1921 while Phyllis Lyon was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma on November 10, 1924. Both were graduated from the University of California at Berkeley. Before met Phyllis Lyon, Del Martin married James Martin and had a daughter named Kendra Mon. Del Martin was divorced after four years of marriage with James Martin but she kept the name "Martin" after their divorce.


Both Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin have earned degrees in journalism. They met in 1950 when they work in the same magazine for the first time. After two years knowing each other, they became lovers in 1952 and strengthen their relationship. Both Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin then became partnership and decided to move in together in 1953 and stay in an apartment in San Francisco. After they live together as a couple there, they find it is hard to develop a social link in San Francisco. So, Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin along with a small group of lesbian women, they formed an organization to accommodate their aspirations and they named it Daughters of Bilitis. Daughters of Bilitis is the first lesbian organization in America.

Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin at their apartment in San Francisco.
Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin at their apartment in San Francisco. | Source

At first, Daughters of Bilitis is intent to be a secret society but both Lyon and Martin want to make the organizations visible so they began to publish a magazine called The Ladder. Both Lyon and Martin play a role as the president and editor of The Ladder magazine until 1963 where Martin acted first as the editor of the magazine from 1956. For the past five years since it is founded, the Daughters of Bilitis has become pretty famous in several states in America and the success of The Ladder magazine that gain many subscribers and more readers. Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin involved in Daughters of Bilitis until the year 1960s. In 1970, the Daughters of Bilitis was disbanded because of the growing emergence of radical activism.

In 1964, Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin joined the Council on Religion and the Homosexual (CRH) a religious gay community in northern California to get rights for homosexuals to be accepted in the church and fought to change California sex laws that criminalize homosexual. Around 1960s – 1970s, Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin then joined several organization including became active in politics by starting to join the Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club, a San Francisco's first gay political organization.

Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin were the first lesbian couple married in California after same-sex couple was offered in San Francisco in 2004, but it considered as invalid by the California appellate court. Then in 2008, the California Supreme Courtdeclared that same-sex couples have rights to get married. On June 16, 2008 Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin were married again and it was legitimated and officiated by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.

Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin ever published books titled “Lesbian/Woman” and “Lesbian Love and Liberation”. They both were inducted into the LGBT Journalists Hall of Fame by the National Gay and Lesbian Journalists in 2005 for their work on The Ladder magazine. In 2007, they received the Pioneer Award from Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).

Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin's wedding in San Francisco.
Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin's wedding in San Francisco. | Source


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