Wednesday, August 27, 2008

In Memoriam - Del Martin

Today, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community lost an iconic leader and a beloved friend. Del Martin, 87, passed away in San Francisco with Phyllis Lyon, her lifelong partner and spouse, by her side.

You simply cannot show a picture of Del (above right) without including Phyllis. They were partners for more than 55 years, and champions in the fight for basic civil rights for all of us.

In a press release from COLAGE they note:

Martin was one of the nation's first and most visible lesbian rights activists who dedicated her life to combating homophobia, sexism, violence, and racism. She is survived by spouse Phyllis Lyon, daughter Kendra Mon, son-in-law Eugene Lane, granddaughter Lorraine Mon, grandson Kevin Mon, sister-in-law Patricia Lyon and a vast, loving and grateful lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender family.

"Today the LGBT movement has lost a true community treasure and role model," reflected Beth Teper, COLAGE Executive Director. "I am reminded of the amazing chutzpah of Del and Phyllis. From an early age they recognized their right to love freely, to organize their community and to advocate for their rights. I have always appreciated Del and Phyllis' long-time moral, emotional and material support of COLAGE and their recognition of the importance of youth and adults with LGBT parents in our movement. Our thoughts are with Phyllis and Kendra during this time of grieving and with the entire community as we reflect on Del's amazing contributions to social justice and LGBT rights."

Martin began working as an activist after receiving her degree in journalism from the University of California at Berkeley. While working on a newspaper in Seattle, Martin met her partner Phyllis Lyon and the two began working on behalf of lesbians in their community. Martin and Lyon have devoted their lives to working towards LGBT equality, healthcare access, advocacy on behalf of battered women, and issues facing elderly Americans. Their many contributions over the past five decades helped shape the modern LGBT movement.

In 1955, Lyon and Martin were among the founders of the Daughters of Bilitis, the first lesbian rights organization. In 1956, they launched "The Ladder," the first lesbian newsletter, which became a lifeline for hundreds of women isolated and silenced by the restrictions of the era. Del Martin was the first openly lesbian woman elected to the board of the National Organization of Women (NOW), and in 1971, encouraged the board to pass a resolution stating that lesbian issues were feminist issues. In 1995, Martin and Lyon were named delegates to the White House Conference on Aging by Senator Dianne Feinstein and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi. In 2004, Lyon and Martin became the first same-sex couple to be married in the state of California, and subsequently became plaintiffs in the California marriage case, helping to ensure that the fundamental right to marry under the California Constitution belongs to all couples, including same-sex couples.

Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon were married in California on June 16, 2008 after 55 years together.

"Ever since I met Del 55 years ago, I could never imagine a day would come when she wouldn't be by my side. I am so lucky to have known her, loved her, and been her partner in all things," Lyon said. "I also never imagined there would be day that we would actually be able to get married. I am devastated, but I take some solace in knowing we were able to enjoy the ultimate rite of love and commitment before she passed."

Gifts in lieu of flowers can be made to honor Del's life and commitment and to marriage equality through NCLR's No On 8 PAC.
The documentary "No Secret Anymore: The Times of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon" tells their powerful story. It was released on their 50th anniversary. I remember thinking as I watched the film with them, how many heterosexual couples make it to 50 years?

Del Martin was an amazing woman, and she will be greatly missed.



Sue J said...

This is such sad news, but how wonderful that they were able to finally able to marry. She lived her life well, and you wrote wonderful tribute.

Comrade Kevin said...

How many heterosexual couples make it even five years?

That's why I don't see what the fuss about same-sex marriage. When so many heterosexual marriages end in divorce, how it is such a "sacred institution"?

Anonymous said...

Such a shame. It saddens me that our laws forbid gays and lesbians from enjoying this kind of important milestone in a person's life.

Fran said...

Oh I am sitting here crying - what a loss.

dguzman said...

Oh no... Dammit.