Del Martin, a pioneering activist for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and feminist movements in the United States, passed away yesterday. “Del was a courageous champion who without question is the foremother of the current lesbian and gay rights movement. I am proud I was able to serve with her on the NOW Board when I was president. Her inspirational work moved the cause of equality forward and changed the lives of millions of people” said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation.
Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a press release: “The lesbian, gay, and transgender community has lost one of its bravest and most admired activists…Del Martin dared for decades to fight to marry her beloved Phyllis, and by doing so became an iconic hero [of] the LGBT community. Her death is a great loss to all of us, but her life is an inspiration.”
In 1955, Martin and her partner Phyllis Lyon were among the co-founders of the Daughters of Bilitis, the first national lesbian rights organization in the United States. Martin and Lyon were also the first editors for The Ladder, which was launched in 1956 and was the first nationally distributed lesbian publication. Martin was active within the feminist movement as well and, among other roles, served as the first out lesbian on the National Organization for Women’s Board of Directors.
Martin and Lyon were the first couple to be married in San Francisco as a result of the California Supreme Court ruling earlier this year that legalized same-sex marriages in the state. Mayor Gavin Newsome had invited the couple to be the first to marry under the ruling in honor of their lifelong activism.
In a press release Lyon said “Ever since I met Del 55 years ago, I could never imagine a day would come when she wouldn’t be by my side. I am so lucky to have known her, loved her, and been her partner in all things…I also never imagined there would be a day that we would actually be able to get married. I am devastated, but I take some solace in knowing we were able to enjoy the ultimate rite of love and commitment before she passed.”