The Bay Area Reporter is reporting that Phyllis Lyon, lesbian activist and half of first legally married same-sex couple in California along with her wife Del Martin, has died in her home at age 95. Martin passed away in 2008 at the age of 87, a few weeks after their marriage. In their years together, Lyon and Martin had made contributions to the progress of LGBT rights in California and the US far beyond getting married; they met as staff at a magazine, and co-founded the Daughters of Bilitis in 1955, the first lesbian civil rights organization in the US. After its founding, the couple also began publishing The Ladder, the first monthly lesbian publication in the US and direct ancestor of the publication you are currently reading. After the shuttering of The Ladder in 1972, the couple published the book Lesbian/Woman, a seminal print work on the meaning of lesbian womanhood that was life-changing for a generation.
In San Francisco specifically, where the couple made their home, Lyon and Martin were involved in the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club, Old Lesbians Organizing for Change, and were delegates to the White House Conference on Aging, where they pushed to have gay & lesbian experiences added to the agenda. Lyon-Martin Health Services was named and established in their honor. Throughout their lives, Martin and Lyon’s work focused on economic parity, health outcomes, and material forms of equality for the LGBT community and for elderly LGBT folks — ironically, same-sex marriage was never a major focus of theirs personally, but they agreed to get married during the push for marriage equality in 2008 at the behest of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and made history as the first married gay couple in the state.
It’s truly impossible to talk meaningfully about lesbian history and organizing in the US without drawing from the contributions of Phyllis Lyon; it’s incredibly rare that one person contributes so much to the lives of generations of a community, and it is with deep gratitude that we mourn her passing and celebrate her life.