Phyllis Lyon, LGBTQ Rights Pioneer, Dies at 95

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She and her wife, Del Martin, were activists and mentors before there was a movement or community, said a longtime friend

Pioneering lesbian activist and civil rights giant Phyllis Lyon died Thursday, officials said. She was 95.

Lyon, who was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, moved to San Francisco. There, she was was a journalist who met her lifelong love, Del Martin, while working at a magazine in Seattle. The couple moved to San Francisco in 1953.

They co-founded with other lesbian couples the Daughters of Bilitis, a political and social organisation for lesbians. They published a national monthly for lesbians and in 1972, a book called Lesbian/Woman.

Lyon and her longtime partner, was among the first same-sex couples to marry in California when it became legal to do so in 2008.

Lyon lived her life with “joy and wonder”, said Kate Kendell, a longtime friend and former executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. She said Lyon and her wife Del Martin were activists and mentors long before there was a movement or community.

“Before cell phones they always had their phone number listed in the phone book in case any young or terrified LGBTQ person needed help or support. And they fielded dozens of calls over the years.”

California’s governor Gavin Newsom, who granted the couple the city’s first same-sex marriage license in 2004 while serving as mayor of San Francisco, called her a “dear friend”.

“Phyllis – it was the honor of a lifetime to marry you & Del. Your courage changed the course of history.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., also a former mayor of San Francisco, recalled Lyon as a fearless trailblazer who worked at the city’s first gay political organization, the Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club, and successfully advocated for an anti-discrimination ordinance in San Francisco.

The law, which banned workplace and housing discrimination against gays and lesbians, was the first of its kind in a major U.S. city, Feinstein said.

Imani Rupert-Gordon, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, called Lyon a “giant,” adding:

“Her activism changed what we thought was possible, and her strength inspired us. Her vision helped forge our path and made organizations like NCLR possible. And although the path is lonelier without her, we know the way because of her.”

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