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In Memoriam: Del Martin

Del Martin
Photo by Liz Mangelsdorf

Phyllis and Del 1954
Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin
Photo by Jane Cleland

On August 27th, 2008, the LGBT community lost an iconic leader and a beloved friend. Del Martin, 87, passed away in San Francisco. 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.

In 1955, Martin and Lyon were among the founders of the Daughters of Bilitis, the first lesbian rights organization. In 1956, they launched “The Ladder,” the first lesbian magazine, which became a lifeline for thousands 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. Lesbian/Woman by Martin & Lyon, published in 1972, was a landmark book that described lesbian lives in a positive way—virtually unknown at the time. In 1976 Martin wrote Battered Wives which was a catalyst for the movement against domestic violence. 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.

After the landmark decision by the California Supreme Court on May 15 which ruled that the ban on marriage for same-sex couples was unconstitutional, Phyllis and Del were the first couple, again, to be married. The got married on June 16, 2008 after 55 years together.

Sandy, Kate, and Del
Photo by Michael Woolsey
Phyllis and Del Wedding
Photo by Liz Mangelsdorf