Kate Kendell


Filed By Kate Kendell | August 27, 2008 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Living
Tags: California, Del Martin, marriage, Phyllis Lyon

It is always hard for me to write when the topic is personal. This is such a moment. On August 27, 2008 a personal hero, transformative icon, deeply cherished role-model and my friend, Del Martin, died at the age of 87.del-martin_phyllis-lyon.jpgEven though Del has been in the hospital for almost two weeks and those of us who visited her could all see her steep decline and knew this moment was inevitable, I still can't quite grasp a life and career without Del as a larger than life influence. I am heartbroken for Phyllis Lyon, who for 55 years made a vibrant intimate and public life with Del.

Phyllis and Del certainly had their own individual interests and personalities, but their life and love as a couple and their commitment to living that life openly, with honesty and integrity, is what millions of folks around the world will remember. The picture of Del and Phyllis marrying 4 years ago and then again on June 16, in the wake of our landmark victory in the California State Supreme Court, is an image that melted hearts and opened minds. They were the face for our fight to win the right to marry the person we love--and after 55 years of commitment to one another, who could possibly deny them that cherished right?

Del's entire life was marked by moments of singular courage, intelligence and insight. She was always ready to discuss--and argue--politics, international affairs, women's issues, social justice causes and the history of the LGBT movement. My fondest memories were laughing and gossiping as we sat in their modest home with the million-dollar views of San Francisco. Over these past months, we were able to do that often and over that time it was clear that Del's health was slipping. But her mind and wit never left. In one of my last hospital visits Del was in pain, with doctors trying all sorts of combinations of medication to ease her discomfort. At one point she grimaced, "Oh, Del I am so sorry," I said. "Not as sorry as I am," she replied with a wry smile.

In so many ways, I have lived a life filled with extraordinary gifts. My work, my family, my friends and colleagues are all a rich and varied quilt of enriching relationships and profound connections. I have been mentored by women and men of enormous talent and generosity. In all my life I have never known a person more remarkable than Del Martin. I will miss her everyday.

My pledge is to honor her unsurpassed legacy by working every day to keep alive her vision for full equality and justice for all of us. Now, more than ever, I am committed to waking up on November 5 with Prop 8 defeated with a brighter future for every LGBT person assured. Now I am doing it for Del and her beloved widow, Phyllis. I hope you will, too.

We now have a fierce and mighty angel on our side. Please hold Phyllis in your hearts and take just a moment to be grateful that our world and community knew Del Martin.

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Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | August 28, 2008 12:49 AM

She was a beacon.

I'm so glad she was able to get married. We can honor her years of struggle by stifling Proposition Eight the initiative that codifies bigoted opposition to same sex marraige.

Keep the light shining.


I had the privilege to meet Del and Phyllis in the mid-1970's when they came to present at one of the gay conferences held at Indiana University. What charming women these two were and are! How sad to lose Del, and I extend my sympathy to her wife and companion Phyllis.

Del was truly one of the Queens of the American GLBT world, in the very best sense that word can possibly carry. Oh, how we will miss her!

Kate, I was going to leave a note offering my condolences to you on the loss of your friend Del. But then it occurred to me that we have *all* suffered this loss.

The example of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon has been a part of my life since 1976. I think this is the first time I've seen Del's name not followed by Phylliss's in the same sentence.

Thank God they finally had the chance to marry. It's sad that she had such a short time to enjoy it.

Please tell Phyllis that the entire GLBT Nation has her in our thoughts. And through your grief, please try to tell yourself, 'I got to be friends with Del Martin'.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | August 28, 2008 5:45 AM

Kate, your tribute was beautiful.

Are there too few stars in the sky,

Does the sunset seem somehow less bright,

It is the loss of you I feel, with heart heavy.

Go on brilliant light!

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | August 28, 2008 11:24 AM

Kate, thank you for your words and I'm so sorry for your loss. I never knew Del Martin as a friend, but feel a deep sadness and bereavement at her passing. Rory is right, we have all suffered this loss. Our community would not be where we are without her, and owe it to her memory and to her widow to continue fighting until we have achieved equal rights.