Pam Spaulding

Tributes to Del

Filed By Pam Spaulding | August 28, 2008 3:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Marriage Equality, Politics, The Movement
Tags: Del Martin, LGBT

There has been an outpouring of public statements about the far-reaching impact of activist Del Martin's life on the LGBT community. Gavin Newsom, who attended yesterday's LGBT caucus, and learned of Martin's death minutes before, released this statement:

For over half a century, Del Martin, along with her loving spouse, Phyllis Lyon, served as an activist for women's rights and the LGBT community. The marriage of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon on June 16, 2008, marked an historic milestone on our country's road to true freedom and equality. Del laid the groundwork for all those who want a life of dignity, and we are forever in her debt. The greatest way we can honor the life work of Del Martin, is to continue to fight and never give up, until we have achieved equality for all.

Our deepest sympathies go out to Del's family, her spouse, Phyllis, her daughter, Kendra, and all those who mourn the loss of this great and pioneering woman.

As a mark of respect for Del Martin, I have ordered the flags at City Hall and the LGBT Pride Flag on Market and Castro Streets to be flown at half-staff from now until sunset, on Thursday, August 28, 2008.

Barack Obama:

"Michelle and I were deeply saddened to hear that Del Martin had passed. Del committed her life to fighting discrimination and promoting equality. Our thoughts and prayers go out to her spouse Phyllis Lyon, and all those who were touched by her life."

Tammy Baldwin:

"Del Martin holds a place of honor in the pantheon of American civil rights leaders. She was a hero and a role model to me and countless other LGBT women and men who seek nothing more and nothing less than full equality. I offer my deep sympathies to her beloved wife, Phyllis, and pledge to carry on the work that they began."

Lorri Jean, of the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center:

Del made an invaluable difference in my life. In 1979 when I was first becoming aware of my sexual orientation, I went to my university library in fear and desperation, searching for something that could help me. There I found only one book on the topic, Lesbian/Woman, the book that Del co-authored with Phyllis. I took the book off the shelf but was afraid to check it out. So, I hid in the library and read it from cover to cover. For the first time, I felt like I wasn't alone. Their ground-breaking work helped me to begin to accept myself and get over my fear. I'll always be grateful to Del and Phyllis for being there for me and for countless other lesbians. You will be greatly missed, Del, but never forgotten."

Rea Carey, Executive Director, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force:

"Del and Phyllis were inspiration in action, living openly and proudly as a loving couple long before many others felt safe to stand with them. Their love for each other gave them strength and sustained them; that same love, courage and grace have left an indelible mark on our movement, and in each of our hearts.

"Del and Phyllis have personally been an inspiration to me since I came out when I was 16 years old. In my office, a picture of the two of them looks over me as I work to carry on their work and their vision for living our lives in truth. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force will honor Del's life by using our uncompromising voice and fighting for justice and equality - a voice made louder and stronger by her 87 years of life. Thank you, Del, for showing so many of us the way."

Lambda Legal Senior Counsel Jennifer C. Pizer:

"It's impossible to overstate Del's importance in the struggle for LGBT rights and dignity. When she and Phyllis started Daughters of Bilitis, they were nearly alone in Joe McCarthy's America. Del Martin led the way for all of us who came later. Everything we've accomplished - marriage rights, anti-discrimination protections in the workplace, even the ability to visit our partners in the hospital - owes a vast debt to her work and example."

Chuck Wolfe, president and CEO of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund:

Del Martin's courage and tenacity helped her lead Californians, and indeed all Americans, to a deeper understanding of the love and commitment that is possible among same-sex couples. She inspired not just her own community, but millions of straight people who saw how long she was willing to wait to legally marry her wife, Phyllis Lyon, with whom she shared her life for more than 55 years. Del will be remembered by future generations as a leader and a hero, and she will be greatly missed.

People For the American Way President Kathryn Kolbert:

"Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon have been an inspiration in my life and work for years. In July, I had the great honor of meeting Phyllis and presenting her with a book containing more than 8,000 congratulatory wedding messages from People For the American Way members."

In The Life Media, Inc. Executive Director Michelle Kristel:

"As a teenager, reading Lesbian/Woman between the stacks in the local library, to one of millions touched by their journey to legal marriage, I have long admired these formidable champions in the fight for equality. It is a profound honor and privilege for In The Life Media to conclude our October season premiere episode with their recent wedding. That episode now becomes a joyous tribute to her life, her relationship with Phyllis, her witness, and struggle for LGBT equality. We are braver and stronger for having had her in our midst."

(In the Life will air never-before-seen footage of Del and Phyllis Lyon on its 17th season premiere; it will be available as a podcast on October 8.)

Jim Burroway of Box Turtle Bulletin reprinted an essay by Del Martin from 1956.

MESSAGE FROM THE PRESIDENT Since 1950 there has been a nationwide movement to bring understanding to and about the homosexual minority.

Most of the organizations dedicated to this purpose stem from the Mattachine Foundation which was founded in Los Angeles at that time. Members of those organizations -- the Mattachine Society, One, and National Association for Sexual Research -- are predominantly male, although there are a few hard working women among their ranks.

The Daughters of Bilitis is a women's organization resolved to add the feminine voice and viewpoint to a mutual problem. While women may not have as much difficulty with law enforcement, their problems are none the less real -- family, sometimes children, employment, social acceptance.

However, the lesbian is a very elusive creature. She burrows underground in her fear of identification. She is cautious in her associations. Current modes in hair style and casual attire have enabled her to camouflage her existence. She claims she does not need help. And she will not risk her tight little fist of security to aid those who do.

But surely the ground work has been well laid in the past 5½ years. Homosexuality is not the dirty word it used to be. More and more people, professional and lay, are becoming aware of its meaning and implications. There is no longer so much "risk" in becoming associated with [text missing].

And why not "belong"? Many heterosexuals do. Membership is open to anyone who is interested in the minority problems of the sexual variant and does not necessarily indicate one's own sex preference.

Women have taken a beating through the centuries. It has been only in this 20th, through the courageous crusade of the Suffragettes and the influx of women into the business world, that woman has become an independent entity, an individual with the right to vote and the right to a job and economic security. But it took women with foresight and determination to attain this heritage which is now ours.

And what will be the lot of the future lesbian? Fear? Scorn? This need not be -- IF lethargy is supplanted by an energized constructive program, if cowardice gives way to the solidarity of a cooperative front, if the "let Georgia do it" attitude is replaced by the realization of individual responsibility in thwarting the evils of ignorance, superstition, prejudice and bigotry.

Nothing was ever accomplished by hiding in a dark corner. Why not discard the hermitage for the heritage that awaits any red-blooded American woman who dares to claim it?

Del Martin, President Daughters of Bilitis


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These are absolute lovely tributes to a truly amazing person. Thanks for rounding them up, Pam.

Thanks for compiling this, Pam. Del deserves every bit of it, and more. And reading her 1956 essay was amazing.