LGBTQ rights pioneer Phyllis Lyon has died, aged 95

Olga Berrios via Flickr

Phyllis Lyon (left) was an early LGBTQ rights activist.

LGBTQ rights pioneer Phyllis Lyon has died, aged 95, of natural causes. Phyllis, along with her wife Del Martin, who died in 2008, founded the first lesbian rights organisation in America, the Daughters of Bilitis.

Phyllis and Del also founded the lesbian publication, The Ladder, and in 2004 were the first same-sex couple to exchange marriage vows in San Francisco. The pair were married by current Governor of California, Gavin Newsom.

Their marriage was voided but this was overturned when California’s Supreme Court struck down anti-same-sex marriage laws in 2008, and the pair subsequently re-married.

During their lives, the couple also campaigned for political and religious figures to become more supportive of LGBTQ rights, and as part of the Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club, helped persuade then mayor of San Francisco, Dianne Feinstein, to sponsor legislation banning discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Phyllis also co-founded and directed the National Sex Forum, was a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality, and alongside Del wrote the book, Lesbian/Woman.

Phyllis’s death was shared by Gavin Newsom, who said in a statement: “Phyllis and Del were the manifestation of love and devotion. Yet for over 50 years they were denied the right to say 2 extraordinary words: I do.

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

California Senator Scott Wiener said: “We lost a giant today. Phyllis Lyon fought for LGBTQ equality when it was neither safe nor popular to do so.

“Phyllis and her wife Del Martin played a crucial role winning the rights and dignity our community now enjoys. We owe Phyllis immense gratitude for her work. Rest in power.”

Phyllis is survived by a daughter and son-in-law, two grandchildren and a great grandson. The family have asked that memorial donations are made to San Francisco’s Lyon-Martin Health Servives, a clinic named in her and Del’s honour which serves the LGBTQ community.

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