Del Martin, Eloquent Voice of Gay and Lesbian Movement, 87

Del Martin, a strident and eloquent voice in the early gay and lesbian civil rights movement in America, died Wednesday in San Francisco not long after enjoying perhaps the hardest-won prize of her lifelong cause — legal marriage to Phyllis Lyon, her longtime partner. Martin was 87.

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2 responses to “Del Martin, Eloquent Voice of Gay and Lesbian Movement, 87

  1. Thank you Jae (maize magazine) for sending me this…val

    Forwarded message:
    IN THE LIFE Remembers Pioneer Del Martin Dear Viewers,

    It’s with sadness that I write to you with news that longtime LGBT civil rights acitivist and pioneer Del Martin died this morning. Our hearts go out to Phyllis Lyon, to whom, in life and love, Del was inextricably linked.

    As a teenager, reading “Lesbian/Woman” between the stacks in the local library, to one of millions touched by their journey to marriage, I have long admired these formidable champions in the fight for equality. It is a profound honor for In The Life Media to conclude our October season premiere episode with their recent wedding. That episode now becomes a joyous tribute to her life, her relationship with Phyllis, her witness, and struggle for LGBT equality. We are braver and stronger for having had her in our midst.

    The 17th Season Premiere episode of IN THE LIFE, “Civil Rites & Civil Rights”, takes an in-depth look at the battle for marriage equality in America’s most populous state, California. As part of it, we’re privileged to be airing never-before-seen footage of Del and her partner of 55 years, Phyllis, becoming the first same-sex couple to wed in California after the state Supreme Court mandated equal marriage rights for gay men and lesbians.

    We hope you will join us in remembering these vanguards of the movement.

    Warmest wishes,

    Michelle Kristel
    Executive Director

  2. This also came today from Maize…

    Dorothy L. (Del) Martin (May 5, 1921 – August 27, 2008)

    Died on Wednesday, August 27, 2008 at UCSF Hospice, San Francisco,
    California. 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.

    An eloquent organizer for civil rights, civil liberties, and human
    dignity, Del Martin created and helped shape the modern lesbian, gay,
    bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and feminist movements. She was a woman of
    extraordinary courage, persistence, intelligence, humor, and fundamental
    decency, who refused to be silenced by fear and never stopped fighting for
    equality. Her last public political act, on June 16, 2008, was to marry
    Phyllis Lyon, her partner of 55 years. They were the first couple to wed
    in San Francisco after the California Supreme Court recognized that
    marriage for same-sex couples is a fundamental right in a case brought by
    plaintiffs including Martin and Lyon.

    Born in San Francisco on May 5, 1921, Dorothy L. Taliaferro, or Del as she
    would come to be known, was salutatorian of the first graduating class of
    George Washington High School and went on to study journalism at the
    University of California at Berkeley. At 19, after transferring to San
    Francisco State College (now San Francisco State University), she married
    James Martin and two years later gave birth to their daughter Kendra. The
    marriage ended in divorce.

    Del Martin met the love of her life, Phyllis Lyon, in Seattle in 1950 when
    they worked for the same publication company. They became lovers in 1952
    and formalized their partnership on Valentine’s Day in 1953 when they
    moved in together in San Francisco. In 1955, they bought the small home
    that has been theirs ever since.

    In what would prove to be an act that would change history, Martin, Lyon,
    and six other lesbians co-founded the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB) in San
    Francisco in 1955. DOB, which was named after an obscure book of lesbian
    love poetry, initially was organized to provide secret mutual support and
    social activities. It became the first public and political lesbian rights
    organization in the United States, laying a foundation for the women’s and
    lesbian and gay liberation movements that flowered in the early 1970s and
    continue today.

    Del Martin used her writing and speaking talents to challenge
    misconceptions about gender and sexuality. “We were fighting the church,
    the couch, and the courts,” she often remembered years later, naming the
    array of social and cultural forces early activists confronted when
    homosexuals were treated as immoral, mentally ill, and illegal. As the
    first President of DOB, she penned stirring calls to arms. “Nothing was
    ever accomplished by hiding in a dark corner. Why not discard the
    hermitage for the heritage that awaits any red-blooded American woman who
    dares to claim it?” She was the second editor (after Phyllis Lyon) of
    DOB’s groundbreaking monthly magazine, The Ladder, from 1960 to 1962 and
    ushered in a new decade of political engagement and media visibility for
    the nascent gay rights movement. The Ladder grew from a mimeographed
    newsletter in 1956 to an internationally recognized magazine with
    thousands of subscribers by 1970, and thousands more readers who copied
    its contents or circulated it among friends and coworkers. Martin’s many
    contributions to The Ladder ranged from short stories to editorials to
    missives: one of the most famous is “If That’s All There Is,” a searing
    condemnation of sexism in the gay rights movement written in 1970. Due to
    Martin’s influence, The Ladder provided one of the few media outlets
    confronting misogyny in the decade before the rebirth of women’s

    In 1964, Del Martin was part of a group that founded the Council on
    Religion and the Homosexual in order to lobby city lawmakers more
    effectively to reduce police harassment and modify the sex laws that
    criminalized homosexual behavior. In later years, Martin was also a
    founding member of the Lesbian Mother’s Union, the San Francisco Women’s
    Centers, and the Bay Area Women’s Coalition, among other organizations.

    As an early member of the National Organization for Women (NOW), Del
    Martin worked to counter homophobia within the women’s movement – fear of
    the so-called “lavender menace.” She and Lyon were the first lesbians to
    insist on joining with a “couples’ membership rate” and Martin was the
    first out lesbian on NOW’s Board of Directors. Their efforts helped to
    insure the inclusion of lesbian rights on NOW’s agenda in the early

    Lesbian/Woman, the book they co-authored in 1972, is one of Martin and
    Lyon’s landmark accomplishments. The book described lesbian lives in a
    positive, knowledgeable way almost unknown at the time. In 1992,
    Publishers Weekly chose it as one of the 20 most influential women’s books
    of the last 20 years.

    For many years, Del Martin was a leader in the campaign to persuade the
    American Psychiatric Association to declare that homosexuality was not a
    mental illness. This goal was finally achieved in 1973.

    Del Martin’s publication of Battered Wives in 1976 was a major catalyst
    for the movement against domestic violence. Martin became a nationally
    known advocate for battered women, and was a co-founder of the Coalition
    for Justice for Battered Women (1975), La Casa de las Madres (a shelter
    for battered women) founded in 1976, and the California Coalition against
    Domestic Violence (1977). She lectured at colleges and universities around
    the country. Martin received her doctorate from the Institute for Advanced
    Study of Human Sexuality in 1987.

    Martin’s keen political instincts and interests extended her influence
    into the mainstream Democratic Party. She and Lyon were co-founders, in
    1972, of the Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club, the first gay political club
    in the United States. Martin was appointed Chair of the San Francisco
    Commission on the Status of Women in 1976 and served on the committee
    until 1979. She worked as a member of many other councils and boards
    including the San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women. Throughout
    the years, many politicians recognized their stature as community leaders
    and sought advice and endorsement from Martin and Lyon.

    It is difficult to separate Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon and write about
    only one of them. Their lives and their work have intertwined and their
    enduring dedication to social justice has been recognized many times. In
    1979, local health care providers established a clinic to give lesbians in
    the San Francisco Bay area access to nonjudgmental, affordable health care
    and named it Lyon-Martin Health Services in their honor. In 1990, the
    American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California awarded the
    couple with its highest honor, the Earl Warren Civil Liberties Award. In
    1995, Senator Dianne Feinstein named Martin, and Congresswoman Nancy
    Pelosi named Lyon, as delegates to the White House Conference on Aging,
    where they made headlines by using their moment at the podium to remind
    the 125,000 attendees that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people
    grow old, too, and must be included explicitly in aging policies. The
    Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality gave Martin and Lyon their
    Outstanding Public Service Award in 1996. They are among the most beloved
    figures in the LGBT community and have served as Grand Marshals at Pride
    marches across the nation and been honored by every major LGBT
    organization in the country.

    Del Martin identified her own legacy in 1984 when she said that her most
    important contribution was “being able to help make changes in the way
    lesbians and gay men view themselves and how the larger society views
    lesbians and gay men.” She had the courage to be true to herself when the
    world offered only condemnation for lesbians. Martin showed all of us how
    to have what she called “self-acceptance and a good sense of my own
    self-worth.” Del Martin never backed down from her insistence on full
    equality for all people and, even at 87 years old, she kept moving all of
    us closer to her ideal.

    Gifts in lieu of flowers can be made to honor Del’s life and commitment
    and to defeat the California marriage ban through NCLR’s No On 8 PAC at

    A public memorial and tribute celebrating the life of Del Martin will be
    planned in the next several weeks.

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