PHYLLIS LYON, Lesbian activist, born (d: 2020); Phyllis Lyon was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She held a degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley, earned in 1946. During the 1940s, she worked as a reporter for the Chico Enterprise-Record, and during the 1950s, she worked as part of the editorial staff of two Seattle magazines.
Her name was almost always paired with that of her late partner, Del Martin. Martin and Lyon met in Seattle in 1950 when they began working for the same magazine. They became lovers in 1952 and entered into a formal partnership in 1953 when they moved to San Francisco together although technically unable to legally marry.
On February 12. 2004, Martin and Lyon were granted the first marriage license given to a same-sex couple in the United States. The license was granted in violation of California state law by the City and County of San Francisco after mayor Gavin Newsom ordered that marriage licenses be given to same-sex couples who requested them. The licenses were voided on August 12, 2004.
In 1955, Martin and Lyon and six other Lesbian women formed the Daughters of Bilitis, the first major Lesbian organization in the United States. In 1956, DOB issued a twelve-page, mimeographed newsletter called The Ladder, edited by Lyon. Within five years of its origin, the Daughters of Bilitis had chapters around the country, including Chicago, New York, New Orleans, San Diego, Los Angeles, Detroit, Denver, Cleveland and Philadelphia. There were 500 subscribers to “The Ladder,” but far more readers, as copies were circulated among women who were reluctant to put their names to a subscription list.
An “accommodationist” organization, soon to be closely associated with the Mattachine Society, a predominantly male homophile group, DOB became the first national Lesbian society; and The Ladder, the first overtly Lesbian journal, achieved national circulation. Because of the conservative climate of the 1950s, membership in DOB was secret, and Lyons used a pseudonym for her work on the first few issues of The Ladder. Martin took over editorship of the newsletter from 1960 to 1962, and was then replaced by other editors until the newsletter ended its connection with the Daughters of Bilitis in 1970.
Lyon and Martin remained leaders of the DOB until the late 1960s, when they were replaced by women who were perceived as more radical and who had different goals for the organization. The Daughters of Bilities disbanded not long after Martin and Lyon’s leadership ended.
Martin and Lyon were active in the National Organization for Women (NOW) starting in 1967. Del Martin was the first openly Lesbian woman elected to NOW. Lyon and Martin worked to combat the homophobia they perceived in NOW, and encouraged the National Board of Directors of NOW’s 1971 resolution that Lesbian issues were feminist issues.
Phyllis Lyon died in April 2020 of natural causes. She was pre-deceased by Del Martin in 2008.