Trailblazing lesbians Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin inducted into California Hall of Fame

Phyllis Lyon and Dorothy “Del” Martin, two trailblazing San Francisco lesbians who fought for equality, have been inducted into the California Hall of Fame for their more than five decades of public service.

Joining Lyon and Martin in the 14th class are wire artist Ruth Asawa, singer-songwriter and guitarist Jerry Garcia, labor activist Larry Itliong, and music icon Ritchie Valens.

All of them were inducted posthumously during a webcast Oct. 12 by Governor Gavin Newsom and first partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom.

The new inductees, who join 134 inspirational Californians previously inducted for embodying the state’s innovative spirit, are celebrated in a new California Hall of Fame website featuring online exhibitions and tribute videos exploring the lives and legacies of the latest inductees. The California Hall of Fame is located at the California Museum in Sacramento.

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Phyllis Lyon, Del Martin

Lyon and Martin spent decades advancing civil rights in the LGBTQ and women’s rights movements.

They met in Seattle and fell in love while working together as journalists in the early 1950s. They moved to San Francisco in 1953, where they launched the country’s first nationwide lesbian organization, Daughters of Bilitis, in 1955.

The next year, the couple founded “The Ladder,” the first nationally distributed lesbian publication. They edited it from their kitchen table until 1962.

In the early 1960s, Lyon and Martin became leaders in the fight to decriminalize homosexuality. With supporters in the religious community, they formed the Council on Religion and the Homosexual.

California Hall of Fame

Phyllis Lyon, right, and Dorothy “Del” Martin, two trailblazing San Francisco lesbians who fought for equality, have been inducted into the California Hall of Fame for their more than five decades of public service. Photo: Courtesy of Kendra Mon.

Lesbian activists

Lyon founded the National Sex and Drug Forum with Glide Urban Center’s pastor and was one of the founding faculty members of The Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality. 

When Lyon and Martin joined the National Organization for Women (NOW), they insisted on the couple’s rate. At the time, it was only offered to heterosexuals.

Throughout their involvement with NOW, they fought for lesbian recognition, and Martin became the first out lesbian woman elected to NOW’s board of directors.

In the 1970s, they participated in the campaign that led the American Psychiatric Association to declare that homosexuality was not a mental illness.

Lyon chaired San Franciscans Against Proposition 6 (also known as the Briggs Initiative) in 1978, helping defeat the initiative to ban gay and lesbian teachers from California schools.

In their last decades, Lyon and Martin worked with Old Lesbians Organizing for Change and served as delegates to the White House Conference on Aging.

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Marriage equality

On Feb. 12, 2004, after then-San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, Martin and Lyon became the first couple to officially marry in the U.S.

However, the California Supreme Court invalidated their marriage a month later. But in June 2008, the same court declared same-sex marriages legal.

With Newsom presiding, Lyon and Martin married again in California’s first legal same-sex union. Martin passed away in 2008, and Lyon died in 2020.

California Hall of Fame

Lyon and Martin are not the first members of  the LGBTQ community in the California Hall of Fame. RuPaul was inducted in 2019. Billie Jean King, Harvey Milk, Sally Ride, and George Takei are also in the Hall of Fame.

The California Hall of Fame launched in 2006 to honor trailblazing Californians who embody the state’s spirit of innovation and have made history. Inductees are selected annually by the governor and first partner for achievements in arts, business and labor, entertainment, food and wine, literature, music, public service, science, and sports. Traditionally, California Hall of Fame inductees are celebrated in an annual ceremony held at the Museum.

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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