March 7th: Del Martin & Phyllis Lyon

Preface: Lgbt+ means Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, & Transgender.  The “+” is to acknowledge other sexualities and gender identities not listed in the acronym.

So at Mcdonogh School, we have a club called “Spectrum” where we talk about current topics and issues concerning the lgbt+ community.  Well, back in the 1950s, this club, I’m assuming, would never have been allowed to exist.  That’s where Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon come in.  Martin and Lyon worked tirelessly throughout their lives together to win rights for women and the lgbt+ community.  They met at work in 1950, quickly became a couple, and moved in together on valentine’s day of 1953.  Back in the 1950s, it was illegal to be gay, so it goes without saying that it was pretty hard, and even dangerous to socialize with other people when you were in a lesbian relationship.  Realizing this, Martin and Lyon came together with a few other women to form the Daughters of Bilitis, America’s first lesbian rights organization, as a way to fight for lgbt+ people’s rights.  Additionally, the group allowed lesbian women to socialize with each other, forming bonds within the community and making it stronger.  The next year, the group also started a newsletter called The Ladder which had around 500 subscribers but many more readers.  Women would share the newsletters with each other since some were afraid to put their name on the subscription list.  With the help of the newsletter, the Daughters of Bilitis had chapters all over the country until 1970, when radical homophobia forced them to shut down.  But that wasn’t all these two inspiring women did.  Martin and Lyon founded Lyon-Martin Health Services in 1979, to help lesbians, low-income / uninsured women, people living with HIV, and transgender people gain access to affordable, and more importantly, non-judgmental health care.  The clinic is still open today in San Francisco.  In 2004, after being together for over 50 years, Martin and Lyon got married when California legalized same-sex marriage.  However, California later overturned marriage equality and their marriage was invalidated until same-sex marriage was passed again in California in 2008.  They then became the first same-sex couple to be married in the state of California; their ceremony was performed by the mayor of San Francisco on July 16th, 2008.  Del Martin died less than two months later and all the flags at San Francisco’s city hall flew at half-mast in her honor.  Lyon, now 92 years old, is still alive today and lives in San Francisco.  


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