Pioneering Lesbian Activist Phyllis Lyon Dies at 95

"Her activism changed what we thought was possible, and her strength inspired us."

The LGBTQ community has lost another champion for equality.

Lesbian activist and journalist Phyllis Lyon (above, right) has died at age 95 of natural causes, California state Sen. Scott Wiener confirmed Thursday.

Lyon has been hailed as a pillar of San Francisco’s queer community and a pioneer for marriage equality. In her lifetime, Lyon and her partner, Del Martin, co-founded the Daughters of Bilitis, America’s first lesbian political organization. She was also a prolific journalist whose career spanned decades and included launching The Ladder, a first-of-its-kind lesbian newsletter.

Back in 2004, Lyon and Martin became the first same-sex couple to marry in the state of California in a ceremony officiated by Gov. Gavin Newsom, who was the mayor of San Francisco at the time. The wedding was voided, and they then became plaintiffs in a California marriage equality lawsuit.

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Phyllis Lyon (left) and Del Martin.

In June 2008, the couple was legally wed in San Francisco by former National Center for Lesbian Rights executive director Kate Kendell, after they’d been together 55 years. Martin passed away just two months later at age 87.

NCLR executive director Imani Rupert-Gordon called Lyon “a giant” in a media statement issued this week.

“She was an icon, a trailblazer, a pioneer, a role model, and a friend to the many of us who looked up to her,” Rupert-Gordon said. “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.”

Newsom also shared a touching tribute to Lyon on Twitter.

“Phyllis—it was the honor of a lifetime to marry you & Del,” the governor wrote. “Your courage changed the course of history. Rest in Peace, my dear friend.”

Main image: Del Martin (left) and Phyllis Lyon at their 2008 wedding.

Brooklyn-based writer and editor. Probably drinking iced coffee or getting tattooed.
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