Phyllis Lyon, pioneering civil rights activist and LGBTIQ+ icon, who along with her partner of over five decades Del Martin became the face of the fight for same sex marriage rights in the United State, died at her San Francisco home on Thursday. She was 95 and died of natural cases, media reports said.
Martin had died at the age of 87 in August 2008, two months after she and Lyon became the first same sex couple to legally marry in San Francisco. The couple had first married on February 12, 2004, when then San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom ordered the city clerk to start issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples. Their marriage was voided by the California Supreme Court. When four years later the California Supreme Court legalised gay marriages, they became the first couple to marry again on June 16, 2008. San Francisco city commemorated the activist and bathed its airport and city hall bathed in rainbow colours in honour of Lyon on Friday night.
Tributes poured in for the “LGBTIQ hero”. Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives was one of the earliest to issue a statement. “I was heartbroken to learn of the passing of Phyllis Lyon: an icon of San Francisco and an LGBTQ rights trailblazwer who used her voice to fight for justice and hold our nation accountable to its founding values,” said Pelosi.
“If the word icon ever meant anything it certainly applies to Phyllis Lyon. Phyllis and her partner Del Martin were true pioneers in the fight for lesbian and LGBTQ+ rights. I am honoured to have called them friends. Their contributions will never be forgotten,” said Kamala Harris, US Senator.
American screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, who created docudrama miniseries When We Rise about the LGBTIQ rights movement in the US, tweeted: “Waking up to the news that Phyllis Lyon is no longer with us. Without question LGBTQ lives are far better today thanks to Phyllis and Del’s brave work. I loved knowing Phyllis. We were honoured to depict her and Del in When We Rise. May her life of activism inspire our work ahead.”
Lyon, a journalist who worked as a police reporter in Fresno before working for the Chico Enterprise-Record, met Martin in 1950. They moved in together in 1953 and set up a home in an apartment on Castro Street in San Francisco. In 1955, they co-founded the Daughters of Bilitis,the first social and political organisation for lesbians in the United States. Lyon was also the first editor of The Ladder (founded in 19565), the first nationally distributed lesbian publication in the United States.