Activist Phyllis Lyon, who spent more than 50 years fighting for LGBTQ+ rights, has died of natural causes aged 95.

Lyon was working as a journalist in Seattle when she met her lifelong partner Del Martin in 1950. They devoted their lives to working towards LGBTQ+ equality and access to healthcare, as well as being advocates for battered women and elderly Americans.

In 2004, San Francisco officials allowed same-sex weddings, with officials choosing Lyon and Martin to take the first vows. California’s Supreme Court voided these unions later that year, until 2008, when the couple were one of the first same-sex couples to marry in the state of California after 55 years together.

California Governor Gavin Newsom, who granted the couple the city’s first same sex marriage license in 2004, and officiated the wedding in 2008, called Lyon “a dear friend”.

“Phyllis—it was the honor of a lifetime to marry you & Del,” he wrote in a tweet on Thursday. “Your courage changed the course of history.”

Lyon and Martin, who died in 2008, moved to San Francisco in 1953, and in 1955, with other lesbian couples founded Daughters of Bilitis – the first lesbian civil and political rights organisation in the United States.

A year later, the couple launched “The Ladder”, the first lesbian newsletter, which soon became a lifeline for hundreds of women isolated by the restrictions of the time. Activists established the Lyon-Martin health services in honour of Phyllis and Del in 1979.

Kate Kendell, longtime friend and former Executive Director of the National Centre for Lesbian Rights, said that Lyon was always ready to support those in need.

Lyon (right) and Martin (left) were among the first same-sex couples to marry in the state of California. | Photo: eqca, Twitter.

“Before cell phones [Lyon and Martin] always had their phone number listed in the phone book in case any young or terrified LGBTQ person needed help or support.”

“Phyllis Lyon is truly an iconic figure in the history of LGBTQ and women’s rights,” she said in a press release. “Her life was marked by courage and the tenacious belief that the world must and could change.”

Friends and family of Lyon are planning a celebration of her life.


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