Wednesday, August 27, 2008

thank goodness for pioneers

I know I'm finding excuses to back out of writing "Meeting the Monk, Part II" but....

a) my back is killing me. I think I pulled something. Big time.
b) I took something for my back, and now feel like an HonorarySpaceCadet.
c) I really want to post about something else today.

Back in June, I wrote about these ladies, who were finally able to marry after 55 years of being together.

Del Martin passed away today



Community Mourns the loss of beloved Civil rights leader Del Martin, 87

(San Francisco, California, August 27, 2008) - 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. 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. Martin's many
contributions to the LGBT movement will resonate for decades to come.

"Today the LGBT movement lost a real hero," said Kate Kendell, Executive
Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. "For all of Del's
life, she was an activist and organizer even before we knew what those
terms meant. Her last act of public activism was her most personal --
marrying the love of her life after 55 years. In the wake of losing her,
we recognize with heightened clarity the most poignant and responsible way
to honor her legacy is to preserve the right of marriage for same-sex
couples, thereby providing the dignity and respect that Del and Phyllis'
love deserved."

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 lived her life with great compassion, wit, tenacity, generosity, and
valor," said The Honorable Donna Hitchens, Founder of the National Center
for Lesbian Rights. "She inspired thousands of us to be more courageous
and energetic than we thought possible. When faced with moments of
fatigue, laziness or weakness, one had only to ask - 'What would Del and
Phyllis do?' While she will be greatly missed, her legacy will be
cherished forever."

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 defeat the California marriage ban through NCLR's No On 8 PAC at

Obituary attached.


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.


Anonymous said...

Wow! What a stunning legacy. It is a great inspiration to know the difference that a single individual can make and has made in the quest for greater social justice and equality. Thanks for sharing this.

jane said...

getting a little choked up reading that. nice post.