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LGBTQ rights activist Phyllis Lyon

Phyllis Lyon (1924–2020), pioneering LGBTQ rights activist

by Linnea Crowther

Phyllis Lyon was a longtime LGBTQ rights activist who had one of California’s first same-sex weddings in 2004 when she married her partner of more than 50 years, Del Martin (1921 – 2008).

A lifelong activist

Lyon and Martin met in 1950 and became a couple in 1952. When their relationship began, LGBTQ people were often hated and feared, expected to stay in the closet. The two women became organizers and supporters of their fellow lesbians, founding the social and political organization the Daughters of Bilitis in 1955. Through meetings and outreach, they helped other women whose sexuality made them deviant in society’s eyes. In 2004, when California first legalized same-sex marriage, Lyon and Martin were the first same-sex couple to marry in San Francisco. Their wedding was officiated by Governor Gavin Newsom, who was then the mayor of San Francisco. California later overturned same-sex marriage, but when the state legalized it again in 2008, Lyon and Martin remarried — and they were again the first same-sex couple in San Francisco to do so.

Lyon on founding the Daughters of Bilitis

“You know, we were trying to help lesbians find themselves. I mean, you can’t have a movement if you don’t have people that see that they’re worthwhile.” —from a 1989 interview with Eric Marcus


What people said about her

Full obituary: San Francisco Chronicle

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