Beloved civil rights leader to be honored at San Francisco City Hall; Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others to pay tribute

(San Francisco, CA, September 24, 2008)—Family, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, elected officials, community leaders, and performers will honor the life of Del Martin, one of the nation’s first and most visible lesbian rights activists, on Wednesday, October 1 at 2:00 p.m. in the Rotunda of San Francisco City Hall. Martin’s many contributions shaped the modern lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT), as well as feminist civil rights movements. Martin, 87, passed away on August 27, 2008 in San Francisco.

In a program featuring tributes by Mayor Gavin Newsom, Reverend Cecil Williams, political activist and feminist Aileen Hernandez, Ambassador James C. Hormel, writer Jewelle Gomez, poet Jan Mirikitani, and National Center for Lesbian Rights Executive Director Kate Kendell, Martin will be remembered for her transformative civic contributions. The celebration will include performances by the Glide Ensemble, Sistah Boom, Linda Tillery, Holly Near, Margie Adam, and Ellen Seeling, Montclair Women’s Big Band director.

Over more than five decades, Del Martin helped shape the modern feminist and LGBTQ movements. She was a tenacious and tireless fighter for equality and the rights of LGBTQ people, women, particularly battered women, and older Americans.

Martin began working as an activist after receiving her degree in journalism from the University of California at Berkeley. While working on a newspaper in Seattle, Martin met her partner Phyllis Lyon and the two began working on behalf of lesbians in their community. Martin and Lyon have devoted their lives to working towards LGBTQ equality, women’s rights, healthcare access, advocacy on behalf of battered women, and issues facing elderly Americans. Their many contributions over the past five decades helped shape the modern LGBTQ movement.

Del Martin met her partner Phyllis Lyon in 1950, in Seattle, where they both worked for a building trade publication. In 1955, Martin and Lyon were among the founders of the Daughters of Bilitis, the first lesbian rights organization. In 1956, they launched “The Ladder,” the first lesbian magazine, which became a lifeline for thousands of women isolated and silenced by the restrictions of the era. Del Martin was the first openly lesbian woman elected to the board of the National Organization of Women (NOW), and in 1971, encouraged the board to pass a resolution stating that lesbian issues were feminist issues. Lesbian/Woman by Martin & Lyon, published in 1972, was a landmark book that described lesbian lives in a positive way virtually unknown at the time. In 1976 Martin wrote Battered Wives which was a catalyst for the movement against domestic violence. In 1995, Martin and Lyon were named delegates to the White House Conference on Aging by Senator Dianne Feinstein and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi. In 2004, Lyon and Martin became the first same-sex couple to be married in the state of California, and subsequently became plaintiffs in the California marriage case, helping to ensure that the fundamental right to marry under the California Constitution belongs to all couples, including same-sex couples.

Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon were married in California on June 16, 2008 after 55 years together.

Contributions can be made to honor Martin’s life and commitment and to defeat the California marriage ban through NCLR’s No On 8 PAC at www.nclrights.org/NoOn8

click here for photos of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon

The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.