Friday, July 4, 2008

Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon

A belated entry for this couple that was most deservedly allowed the first marriage at San Francisco City Hall in June, 2008. When I was growing up back east, I never heard the word lesbian or any reference to it. My mother knew gay men and described her first trip to a gay bar, yet it never occurred to me that women could be gay. (Photo by Mi-ly on Flickr. Thanks!)

Then I went to a woman's college where one year two women were ordered to leave their dorm rooms open 24/7. How was that for making a point? The result was to arouse great sympathy for the beleaguered dorm mates. (It's always interested me that many of the women administrators there were unmarried, and not visibly dating men. How many of them were in the closet?) Of course, this was before the civil rights movement, and women professors got paid and promoted less than their male colleagues, so homosexuality was definitely taboo as a public event.

Martin and Lyon moved to San Francisco in 1953, where they started the Daughters of Bilitis, the first major national organization for lesbians. In 1967, they joined the National Organization of Women and fought to eliminate homophobia from the nascent women's rights movement.

Moving eventually to Northern California in 1970, I had forthright lesbian students and befriended a number of them. They taught me pool, how to dance better, and urged me speak up more as a woman. Martin and Lyon's 1972 book on lesbian women was groundbreaking for these young women, who were so significant as activists in the women's right movement locally. It is difficult to imagine what courage it took on the authors' part to write on this topic. Many of my students had been disowned by their families, but created an extended fictive family in the area that remains to this day. I like to think of these early students also marrying. They taught me much more about life and injustice than I offered them in the classroom.

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