Lesbian feminist icon Phyllis Lyon died of natural causes Thursday, her longtime friend Kate Kendell announced on Twitter. Lyon was 95.
In the mid-1950s, she and longtime partner and fellow journalist Del Martin co-founded the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB). They subsequently published the DOB newsletter The Ladder and in 1972, their book “Lesbian/Woman” became exceedingly influential in the lesbian feminist movement.
They came to national prominence in the LGBT civil rights movement again in 2004 when Kate Kendell, the Executive Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, working in conjunction with Geoff Kors, Executive Director of Equality California, and new San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom asked the lesbian couple in an almost 50 year relationship if they would become an example of marriage equality and get married for Valentine’s Day that year.
The move change history, helping catapult the fight for marriage equality onto the front pages then and again in 2008 and effectively launch Newsom onto the national scene.
Today, during his regular briefing on the coronavirus pandemic, now-California Gov. Gavin Newsom used the opportunity offered by an LGBTQ question from the Los Angeles Blade to talk about Phyllis Lyon:
“I just learned a few hours ago that one of my heroes – Phyllis Lyon – 95 years young, passed. Phyllis – as you may know – I had the privilege of being involved in a marriage ceremony between Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin. The couple had been together for almost a half a century – the manifestation of faith, love and devotion, and yet they were denied on the basis of their sexual orientation the right to say two extraordinary words: I do. The power and potency of those two words is profoundly significant.”
We will have much more on the life and reaction to the death of Phyllis Lyon tomorrow.