Dear Lovers of the Sublime and the Ridiculous,
It is with great sadness that we report that Del Martin, a pioneering Lesbian rights activist who married her lifelong partner, Phyllis Lyon on the first day same-sex couples could legally wed in California, has died. Martin was 87. Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, reported that Martin died at a San Francisco hospital Wednesday morning two weeks after a broken arm exacerbated her existing health problems. Kendell says her wife, Phyllis Lyon, was by her side. Martin is at the right in the picture at the right.
Among the most beloved figures in the Lesbian community, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon got married in San Francisco on February 12, 2004. A couple since 1953, they first earned a spot in queer history by founding the first national Lesbian organization, the Daughters of Bilitis.
From its modest beginnings with eight members in 1955, the Daughters of Bilitis grew into a major force, helping Lesbians meet outside of bars, documenting their lives, and promoting civil rights.
Perhaps even more significant, the organization published "The Ladder," a national newsletter for Lesbians. Phyllis, as editor, assumed an alias for the first three issues before coming out in print with her real name. D.O.B. soon opened chapters in a dozen U.S. cities — and even Melbourne, Australia. Its first national convention, in San Francisco in 1960, was well attended, despite unwanted publicity. Martin and Lyon were involved in issues such as social security, Medicare and social justice for older Americans. Both were appointed delegates to the 1995 White House Conference on Aging. "Ever since I met Del 55 years ago, I could never imagine a day would come when she wouldn’t be by my side," Lyon, 83, said in a statement.
"I also never imagined there would be a day that we would actually be able to get married," she added. "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."
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, of San Francisco, said Del and Phyllis were instrumental in getting Gay marriage legalized.
"We would not have marriage equality in California if it weren’t for Del and Phyllis. They fought and triumphed in many battles," Pelosi said. "Through it all, their love and commitment to each other was an inspiration to all who knew them."
Martin and Lyon were married at City Hall on June 16, 2008. Mayor Gavin Newsom, who officiated the wedding, singled them out to be the first Gay couple to legally exchange vows in the city, in recognition of their long relationship and their status as Gay-rights pioneers.
"The greatest way we can honor the life work of Del Martin, is to continue to fight and never give up, until we have achieved equality for all," Newsom said Wednesday.
Martin…and Lyon…are such seminal figures in Lesbian and Gay history it would be impossible to overstate their contributions. Like Harry Hay and Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings, none of us would be where we are, who we are, how we are without their courageous pioneering work. It is a sad day, but hers was a great life and we honor Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon for their lives.
We extend our sincere condolences to Phyllis Lyon and their family and friends.
For a marvelous interview with Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon by Teri Gross on Fresh Air go here.
HIV/AIDS, for those of you still paying attention, has not gone away. It is ever so slightly treatable still, but thousands are still dying from it, and for many the treatment is as horrible as the disease. Still, I talk with teacher friends…many of whom still remember the horrible deaths of many friends…and they are dumbstruck by how students today simply think HIV/AIDS is a treatable, manageable disease.
Sixteen years ago…what seems like an eternity now, my friend Bob Hattoy addressed the Democratic National Convention. Bob and I used to drive to work together every morning in Los Angeles. He worked for Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky. I worked for Councilwoman Peggy Stevenson, back before the idea of West Hollywood as a separate municipality was even a glimmer in a few GLBT eyes. I moved to New York. Hattoy moved into the national political scene and excelled in the two areas that remain singularly important even today: health and ecology (actually, sort of the same thing, really…personal health is personal ecology. World ecology is world health). As regional director for the Sierra Club in Los Angeles, he was noticed by the Clintons, who brought him into their campaign as their environmental counsel.
In this age of "treatable" "manageable" HIV/AIDS, Bob died from complications of HIV/AIDS, as they say, last year. His voice and spirit should be remembered:
It is sad to report the loss of yet another elder of the community, novelist, poet, librettist…a literary and visionary mind, he was, in fact, a prolific writer in many genres, Thomas Disch.
Disch was an American science fiction author…he preferred "speculative fiction"…and poet. He won the Hugo Award in 1999, and he had two other Hugo nominations and nine Nebula Award nominations to his credit, plus one win of the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, a Rhysling Award and to Seiun Awards, among many others. His latest book, to be published posthumously, The Word of God: Or, Holy Writ Rewritten, is written in the first person, voice of God. When asked, he said this device "enabled him to speak nonsense and it would be true."
Disch was born in Des Moines, IA. In the 1960s, his work began appearing in science-fiction magazines. His first novel, The Genocides, appeared in 1965. He soon became known as part of the New Wave, writing for New Worlds and other avant-garde publications. His critically acclaimed novels of that time included Camp Concentration and 334. In the 1980s, he moved from science fiction to horror, with a series of books set in Minneapolis: The Businessman, The M.D. and The Priest.
Perhaps his most widely read and affecting work was The Brave Little Toaster: A Bedtime Story for Small Appliances, in which a small toaster, a clock radio and an electric blanket come to life. Written as a children’s book, the New York Times’s Anna Quindlen quite rightly recommended, "By it for your children; read it for yourself." Made into a Hyperion (Disney) film with Jon Lovitz in 1987 it was an instant classic.
In America, Disch’s poetry remained little known until a 1989 mid-career retrospective collection, titled Yes, Let’s. A book of new poetry, Dark Verses & Light, followed in 1991. In 1995 and 2002, Disch published two collections of poetry criticism. He continued to regularly publish poetry in magazines and journals such as Poetry, Light, Paris Review, Partisan Review, Parnassus: Poetry in Review and even Theology Today (perhaps an odd choice for a long-lapsed Catholic). His "How To Behave When Dead" prescribes proper etiquette for the buried.
Near the end of his life he stopped submitting poetry to literary journals unless the journals asked for his contributions. He preferred to publish his poems in his LiveJournal blog account. In an interview just ten days before his death, Disch said, "I write poetry because I think it is the hardest thing I can do well. And so I simply enjoy the doing of it, as an equestrian enjoys spending time on a good horse. Poetry is my good horse." He wrote a series of poems on grammar and antagonized science fiction writers for encouraging people to believe in things like UFOs.
Disch partner of 30 years, poet Charles Naylor died in 2005, and he had recently suffered a crushing series of personal setbacks. He was reported to have been depressed for several years, badly hit by the death of Naylor, as well as fighting attempts to evict him from his rent-controlled apartment, that had, unbelievably, recently burned. His upstate New York home had also been flooded and he suffered from diabetes and sciatica.
Disch, who had proposed a calendar that commemorated famous self-annilators (like Sylvia Plath on February 11) took his own life on July 4th.
How to Behave when Dead
A notorious tease, he may pretend
not to be aware of you.
He must speak first. Then
you may begin to praise him.
sincerity and naturalness
count for more than wit.
His jokes may strike you as
Only laugh if he does.
They say he’s mad for art,
but whether in the melting
elegiac mode of, say, this
Vase of Poppies
or, turning the mirror
to his own face, a bronze skull
gorging on a snake —
that is a matter of taste.
In any case, the expense
is what he notices.
What to wear.
still insist on black.
But really, in this modern age,
your best is all that is required.
— Tom Disch
It shouldn’t be any surprise to find out that the creator of such classic children’s characters as Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch and the Cookie Monster was a Gay man. Even the most cursory study of LGBT history shows, time and again, that same-sex people were typically …archetypically … the culture carriers and, perhaps more to the point, the teacher of children. We were always the ones in the tribe to whom the children were given to make sure they learned how to be "one of us."
Sadly, Kermit Love (now there’s a name to reckon with, eh?) who also played Willy the Hot Dog Man (at the left here) on Sesame Street, and had a whole other career designing for Jerome Robbins, Agnes DeMille and Kurt Weill, died June 21st in Poughkeepsie, New York, at the ripe and delicious age of 91. He is survived by his partner of 50 years, Christopher Lyall.
Love spoke about how he designed Big Bird so that he would subtly shed feathers in the course of normal movement, "Not unlike a tree shedding leaves in the Fall." He believed this made Big Bird appear more natural to young viewers. From this, Love went on to design Mr. Snuffleupagus. Despite the coincidence of names, Love is not the namesake for the most famous of the Henson puppets. He was quoted once as saying,"Nope. No connection. He’s Kermit the Frog and I’m just Kermit the human."
Hail and farewell to another Gay elder.
I could swear we reviewed this lovely book, but I can’t, for the life of me, find the review anywhere in the archives. Nonetheless, on what will be a hot and sweaty Gay Pride weekend, here’s a lovely slide show that is drawn from the book Affectionate Men: A Photographic History of a Century of Male Couples, 1850-1950 as well as another, Dear Friends: American Photographs of Men Together 1840-1918.
I’m excited about this new documentary, Chris & Don: A Love Story that is opening here in New York (and I’m guessing in Los Angeles, for the time being.)
What a marvelous film…more love story than documentary. Charming, moving, fascinating. Every Gay person should see this beautiful story of two loving men who were out when out was truly a courageous act, even in Hollywood. Narrated by actor Michael York, this is just a terrific piece.
I think one of the most moving stories the film relates is how, in the last months of Isherwood’s life, as he was dying from prostate cancer, Bachardy diligently, devotedly painted portrait after portrait of his dying lover. Recorded in the breathtaking, beautiful (and rare) book, Last Drawings of Christopher Isherwood (with an appreciation by none other than Stephen Spender), their mutual devotion to his lover was turned into art.
I loved every minute of the Lammy’s evening of awards. Congratulations to the Lammys, which have moved to Los Angeles (along with Charles Flowers, the real loss for New York). Twenty years is no small accomplishment. May you continue forever.
Alas, White Crane’s ALL: A James Broughton Reader was, inexplicably, not a finalist for the LGBT Arts and Culture category. I have to admit…all sour grapes aside…I don’t understand how this important collection of one of the leading voices of queer writing and film could be so blatantly ignored. Winning would have been gravy. But it should have been a finalist. There…I got that off my chest.
Friend, Kitt Cherry, was nominated for her boook Art That Dares was one of five books chosen in the LGBT Arts and Culture category. Unfortunately it didn’t win, but congratulations Kitt. You do wonderful work and we’re proud to feature your work in White Crane. [2008 Lammy winners]
It was a wonderful evening. It was a delight to be in an auditorium with all the hardworking GLBT authors. I think the Lambda Literary Foundation needs to rethink the process and break down and let the winners know they’ve won. Too many of them opted not to fly cross country (when flying is nothing short of a penance!) only to find out that they hadn’t won. Personally I think we owe it to our own institutions to support them, whether we’re winners or not (or…ahem…finalists!) But practical is practical and if the Lammys really want to be the important award they are, it sort of undercuts that end when the winners aren’t present to receive their beautiful crystal book award. And there’s far too much attention to the big publishers…[and they wonder why Gay publishers are folding left and right?]
I’m not quite sure what our sisters made of all the “penis humor” which was…shall we say…somewhat flaccid? But equal time for bad Lesbian humor was well-represented by a Lesbian comic troupe called "The Gay Mafia" performed a Lesbian science fiction scene that was, at best, sort of obligatory. And why is it that Lesbians get to make penis jokes and if Gay men said anything about women’s genitalia we would lose ours? Let it be duly noted: Lesbians can be as embarrassingly bad as Gay men.
For the most part, this is a graying (if eminent) crowd. Youth was represented, but there was, overall, a nice balance of age. The President of the LLF has been handed off (in another series of penis allusions with a "baton") from the eminent and splendid Terry Decrescenzo to best-selling author (and son of newly-minted Christian, Anne Rice) Christopher Rice in a clear play for the Los Angeles celebrity and youth crowd. I get it. Lambda needs to do this. The whole publishing world needs to get connected with the short-attention span crowd. At least he’s out-Gay. For the Los Angeles Gay scene, this is not always a given (see "Hilton, Paris/Gay Pride 2005").
There was a moving (if somewhat overlong) "In Memoriam" slide show, that had all the authors who had died in the past 20 years — 1988 to 2008, since it was the 20th anniversary of the Lammys. Tears and fond sighs were the order of the day as all our literary heroines’ and heroes’ faces looked out at us from the silver screen. Even Valerie Solanas, the radical feminist who wrote "Scum Manifesto" and who shot Andy Warhol, was up there. The obligatory applause response sort of faded away long before the slide show was over. Maybe some of the authors in the slide show were not well-known to everyone in the audience. But my suspicion was more along the lines that the reaction was “Why are we doing this?” Is it really necessary to parade this dirge-like presentation? I’m all for acknowledgment of our elders and our ancestors, to be sure…but it seems to me it might have been a little more celebratory in tone as opposed to the somber tone it took.
Mystery pioneer Katherine V. Forrest presented a Pioneer award to Ann Bannon, who wrote the Lesbian Beebo Brinker novels in the 1950s, which has recently been staged by our friend Linda Chapman (The Beebo Brinker Chronicles), and whom every Lesbian of a certain age has read and revered. Her character Beebo Brinker is nothing short of legend. Forrest attested, as she struggled not to cry, she that Ann Bannon’s books had saved her life. This is what all this publishing is all about. And we must never forget that. Every day, somewhere, there is some Gay kid looking to find some reflection of himself or herself in the world. Like most people, the only place I ever found it was in the dictionary. Ann Bannon is a lovely woman, whose warm smile lit up the room. Her books saved lives. I had the pleasure of meeting her in New York when The Beebo Brinker Chronicles opened and she couldn’t have been more delightful then, and more deserving of this acknowledgment now. Congratulations to Ms. Bannon.
Finally, the other Pioneer awards went to our dear friends Malcolm Boyd, who is going to be 85 years young this very weekend, and his lion-hearted partner, Mark Thompson, both White Crane authors and contributors. They’re both grand old gay men of letters. White Crane has published the essential Malcolm Boyd reader in recognition of his 85th year, A Prophet in His Own Land: A Malcolm Boyd Reader.
In all…a lovely event. On a personal note, Mark and Malcolm hosted me in their beautiful home for a very smart (in every sense of the word!) cocktail party with the literati of Los Angeles in attendance. I must admit it was a real honor to have such an illustrious and accomplished crowd assembled…to say nothing of it being in my honor (and Malcolm’s, too). To return to the City of Angels after 25 years and receive such a welcome was gratifying, humbling and sweet. Thank you M & M!