Phyllis Lyon Won Her Battle to Marry

LGBTQ leader fought for same-sex marriage for decades
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 9, 2020 7:20 PM CDT
Pioneer Led Struggle for LGBTQ Rights
Del Martin, left, places a ring on Phyllis Lyon's finger in their 2008 wedding in San Francisco.   (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

Phyllis Lyon, a civil rights leader who founded the nation's first lesbian rights organization, died Thursday at age 95. Lyon, who lived in San Francisco, died of natural causes, CNN reports. "We lost a giant today," said the chairman of the California Senate's LGBTQ caucus. Along with Del Martin, Lyon founded the Daughters of Bilitis in 1955. The two predated the movement as activists and mentors, said Kate Kendell, former executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, per the AP. "Before cellphones, they always had their phone number listed in the phone book in case any young or terrified LGBTQ person needed help or support," Kendell said. "And they fielded dozens of calls over the years."

Lyon and Martin fought for same-sex marriage, including their own, for decades. San Francisco picked the couple to be the first married at City Hall in 2004. That marriage was voided by a state Supreme Court ruling that tossed out the existing prohibition on same-sex marriages. With the ban gone, Lyon and Martin married again in 2008. Martin died weeks later. "I take some solace in knowing we were able to enjoy the ultimate rite of love and commitment before she passed," Lyon said. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who was the city's mayor at the time, had presided over their ceremony. "Your courage changed the course of history," Newsom tweeted Thursday. One example was the San Francisco law prohibiting workplace and housing discrimination against gays and lesbians, the first such ordinance in a major American city, per NBC. "It was largely because of the tireless work of Phyllis," Sen. Dianne Feinstein said. "She had the energy of 10 people and got the results of 100." (Read more obituary stories.)

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