One of the giants of the modern LGBT civil rights and feminist movements passed away on August 27. Del Martin, the lesbian organizer, writer and all around legend died at the age of 87 at UCSF Hospice in San Francisco, with Phyllis Lyon, her partner of 55 years and wife of two months, at her side.
As a pair, and individually, Martin and Lyon spearheaded some of the most significant developments in modern gay and lesbian history. They were the first same-sex couple to marry in San Francisco, on June 16, one month after a state supreme court ruling legalized same-sex marriage. In 2004, they were the first lesbian couple to wed in the United States, in a union that was later nullified and led to the series of lawsuits that resulted in the recent marriage equality decision, now being challenged by Proposition 8, a November ballot initiative to ban same-sex marriage in California.
A native of San Francisco, Dorothy L Taliaferro, who came to be known as Del, studied journalism at the University of California at Berkeley and San Francisco State College. The founding president of the first lesbian rights organization, Daughters of Bilitis, Martin also was the second editor of its monthly magazine, The Ladder, which helped to promote lesbian visibility in the 1950s and 1960s, decades when few such images existed. Martin was also the first out lesbian on the board of the National Organization for Women, a feminist organization that she and Lyon helped encourage to be more accepting of lesbian members.
In the ‘70s and ‘80s, Martin was a renowned advocate for battered women, and helped lead the successful effort to persuade the American Psychiatric Association to remove homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses. She and Lyon participated in mainstream Democratic politics, and they were honored by the ACLU of Northern California and the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality.
Martin (left) is survived by her spouse, Phyllis Lyon, daughter Kendra Mon, son-in-law Eugene Lane, granddaughter Lorraine Mon, grandson Kevin Mon and sister-in-law Patricia Lyon.