Saturday, May 05, 2018

Born Today In 1921, Feminist, LGBTQ Activist Del Martin

Dorothy Louise Taliaferro "Del" Martin was born today, May 5, 1921.  She, along with Phyllis Lyon were a lesbian couple known as feminist and LGBTQ-rights activists.

Lyon and Martin (at right) met in Seattle in 1950 when they began working for the same magazine. They became lovers in 1952 and entered into a partnership in 1953 when they moved to San Francisco together. Many years later, Lyon and Martin recalled how they learned to live together in 1953. "We really only had problems our first year together. Del would leave her shoes in the middle of the room, and I'd throw them out the window," said Lyon, to which Martin responded, "You'd have an argument with me and try to storm out the door. I had to teach you to fight back."

In 1955, Martin and Lyon and six other lesbian women formed the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB), the first national lesbian organization in the United States. Lyon was the first editor of DOB's newsletter, The Ladder, beginning in 1956. Martin took over editorship of the newsletter from 1960 to 1962, and was then replaced by other editors until the newsletter ended its connection with the Daughters of Bilitis in 1970.

Within 5 years of its origin, the Daughters of Bilitis had chapters around the country, including Chicago, New York, New Orleans, San Diego, Los Angeles, Detroit, Denver, Cleveland, and Philadelphia. There were 500 subscribers to The Ladder but far more readers, as copies were circulated among women who were reluctant to put their names to a subscription list. 

For their pioneering work on The Ladder, Martin and Lyon were among the first inductees into the LGBT Journalists Hall of Fame, which was established in 2005 by the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association. Lyon and Martin remained involved in the DOB until the late 1960s. The Daughters of Bilitis, which had taken a conservative approach to helping lesbians deal with society, disbanded in 1970 due to the rise of more radical activism.

Martin and Lyon have been active in the National Organization for Women (NOW) since 1967. Del Martin was the first open lesbian elected to the board of directors of NOW. Lyon and Martin worked to combat the homophobia they perceived in NOW, and encouraged the National Board of Directors of NOW's 1971 resolution that lesbian issues were feminist issues.

"Del" Martin was the first openly gay woman to be appointed to the San Francisco Commission On the Status of Women (SFCOSW) by then Mayor George R. Moscone in 1977. Martin joined forces with other minority SFCOSW Commissioners, such as Kathleen Hardiman Arnold (now Kathleen Rand Reed), and the first Black woman to be elected to the Board of Supervisors, Ella Hill Hutch, to focus on the nexus of gay women's rights and racial and ethnic discrimination. In their later work with a health clinic, Martin and Lyon focused, for instance, on the specific health and issues affecting Black and Latina gay women. Martin was ahead of her time in understanding the cultural aspects of gay health.

Both women worked to form the Council on Religion and the Homosexual (CRH) in northern California to persuade ministers to accept homosexuals into churches, and used their influence to decriminalize homosexuality in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They became politically active in San Francisco's first gay political organization, the Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club, which influenced then-mayor Dianne Feinstein to sponsor a citywide bill to outlaw employment discrimination for gays and lesbians. 

In 1989, Martin and Lyon joined Old Lesbians Organizing for Change. In 1995 they were named delegates to the White House Conference on Aging; Martin by Senator Dianne Feinstein and Lyon by Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi.

They were married on February 12, 2004, in the first same-sex wedding to take place in San Francisco after Mayor Gavin Newsom ordered the city clerk to begin providing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but that marriage was voided by the California Supreme Court on August 12, 2004. They married again on June 16, 2008, in the first same-sex wedding to take place in San Francisco after the California Supreme Court's decision in In re Marriage Cases legalized same-sex marriage in California. On August 27, 2008, Martin died from complications of an arm bone fracture in San Francisco at age 87.

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