Pioneer lesbian activist, Del Martin, died yesterday of natural causes. She was 87, and she is survived by her partner of 55 years, Phyllis Lyon. Phyllis and Del are the mothers of the lesbian rights movement, founders of the earliest lesbian activist organization in the United States, and perhaps the world, the Daughters of Bilitis.
Early lesbian and gay movement activists like Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, and their fellow travellers like Barbara Gittings, Harry Hay, and Frank Kameny may not be as well known as the inspiring activists we all know from other movements, like Emma Goldman and Martin Luther King, Jr., but these brave men and women were out of the closet and organizing for same-sex love at a time when social norms against doing so were so strong that it was almost unthinkable. They created spaces for people to meet, magazines for people to read, well before the cycle of protest in the 1960s. They survived the McCarthy era and, in Phyllis and Del’s case, remained activists for life.
Del Martin is one of my heros. She changed the world, and we all owe her a debt of gratitude.