SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — The LGBT community lost an iconic leader and a beloved friend when Del Martin, 87, passed away Aug. 27.

Martin and her life partner Phyllis Lyon were among the founders of the Daughters of Bilitis, the first lesbian rights organization, in 1955. The following year they launched “The Ladder,” the first lesbian newsletter.

Martin was the first openly lesbian woman elected to the board of the National Organization of Women (NOW), and in 1971, she led the board in passing a resolution that lesbian issues are feminist issues. In 1995, Martin and Lyon were delegates to the White House Conference on Aging.

After a California Supreme Court ruling granted gay and lesbian couples the right to legally marry, Martin and Lyon became the first same-sex couple in the state to wed, doing so on June 16, 2008.

“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,” Lyon said. “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.”

Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said, “For all of Del’s life, she was an activist and organizer even before we knew what those terms meant. Her last act of public activism was her most personal — marrying the love of her life after 55 years.

“In the wake of losing her, we recognize with heightened clarity the most poignant and responsible way to honor her legacy is to preserve the right of marriage for same-sex couples, thereby providing the dignity and respect that Del and Phyllis’ love deserved.”

Gifts in honor of Del’s life for the purpose of defeating the California marriage ban can be made through NCLR’s No On 8 PAC at

David Stout

David Stout is the associate editor of QNotes. He can be reached at