Introducing the revival of maudern mavericks, our IG series that highlights the people who have pioneered sex education and reproductive and civil rights. Meet Phyllis Lyon & Del Martin, the couple behind the founding of the first Lesbian organization who fought for equitable care and rights of Lesbians from the early 1950s on.
November 10, 1924 (Lyon) & May 5, 1921 (Martin)
San Francisco couple in the 1950s who were instrumental in the early fight for LGBTQ rights. Together they founded Daughters of Bilitis, were editors of activist publication The Ladder, and were the first lesbian couple to get involved in National Organization for Women.
Growing up in Tulsa and San Francisco respectively, both Martin and Lyon ended up working at a Seattle Magazine at the start of 1950. Quickly, the two started dating and moved together to San Francisco in 1953.
Daughters of Bilitis
In 1955, with 6 other lesbian women they founded Daughters of Bilits—a national organization that focused on supporting women who faced harassment after coming out, acting as an alternative community to that of gay bars and clubs. Only 5 years after conception there were chapters across the country and a widely circulated magazine called The Ladder— which both Martin and Lyon worked closely on. 15 years after inception, the DOB disbanded.
The couple joined the National Organization for Women (NOW) and Martin was the first lesbian woman to join their board of directors. She also was appointed to the San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women. Together, the pair founded Lyon-Martin Health Services in 1979. Their clinic acted as a place for lesbians to get equitable care. The space grew to serve low-income members of the community, give HIV tests, and provide health care to all—still operating in San Francisco’s Mission district today.
Their activism continued well into their 70s, both women were nominated to the White House National Conference on Aging as delegates. They also joined the organization Old Lesbians Organizing for Change.
In 2004, after 50 years of being partners, Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin were married when San Francisco’s governor issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The licenses were voided by the state and four years later in 2008, when marriage became legal in the state of California Lyon and Martin were the first same-sex couple to get married—the mayor preceded over their union.
The two spent their life together in San Francisco. Del Martin died two months after their second marriage on August 27, 2008, at the age of 87. Phyllis Lyon remained active in LGBT rights until her death in 2020, she was 95.