Del Martin, a respected founder of the modern lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and feminist movements, died on Wednesday, August 27, at UCSF Hospice, San Francisco, California.
Born Dorothy L. Taliaferro in San Francisco on May 5, 1921, she married James Martin in 1940 and two years later gave birth to their daughter, Kendra. The marriage ended in divorce. Martin met the love of her life, Phyllis Lyon, in Seattle in 1950. They became lovers in 1952 and formalized their partnership on Valentine’s Day in 1953 in San Francisco where the two lived together until Martin’s death.
Martin’s accomplishments on behalf of gender equality are seemingly endless. Martin, Lyon, and six other lesbians co-founded the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB) in San Francisco in 1955, the first public and political lesbian rights organization in the United States.
She and Lyon edited the DOB’s groundbreaking ‘60s-era monthly magazine, The Ladder , providing one of the few media outlets confronting misogyny in the decade before the rebirth of women’s liberation.
Lesbian/Woman (1972), the book Martin and Lyon co-authored describing lesbian lives in a positive, knowledgeable light, was named in 1992 by Publishers Weekly as one of the 20 most influential women’s books of the last 20 years.
Her publication Battered Wives (1976) was a major catalyst against domestic violence, leading to Martin receiving her doctorate from the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in 1987.
She and Lyon were the first lesbians to insist on joining the National Organization for Women (NOW), with a “couples’ membership rate,” and Martin was the first out lesbian on NOW’s board of directors. Their efforts helped to insure the inclusion of lesbian rights on NOW’s agenda in the early 1970s.
In 1972, she and Lyon co-founded the Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club, the first gay political club in the United States. Martin was appointed chair of the San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women in 1976 and served on the committee until 1979.
In 1990, the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California awarded the couple with its highest honor, the Earl Warren Civil Liberties Award. In 1995, Senator Dianne Feinstein named Martin, and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi named Lyon, as delegates to the White House Conference on Aging.
Martin’s last public political act, on June 16, 2008, was to marry Lyon, her partner of 55 years. They were the first couple to wed in San Francisco after the California Supreme Court recognized that marriage for same-sex couples is a fundamental right in a case brought by plaintiffs including Martin and Lyon.
Martin is survived by her spouse, Lyon; daughter, Kendra Mon; son-in-law, Eugene Lane; granddaughter, Lorraine Mon; grandson, Kevin Mon; sister-in-law, Patricia Lyon; and a vast, loving and grateful queer family. Gifts in lieu of flowers can be made to honor Del’s life and commitment and to defeat the California marriage ban through National Center for Lesbian Rights’ No On 8 PAC at www.nclrights.org/NoOn8.
Died RICCI CORTEZ
Miss Ricci Cortez, a pioneering queen of burlesque, died at Hermann Memorial Southeast Hospital on September 3. Born Ethel Bronson on November 3, 1924, in New York City, she adopted her stage name when she joined the entertainment industry in 1947. According to the Houston Chronicle , she enjoyed a successful career throughout the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s as “The Sleepytime Gal,” performing in Madison Square Garden, in Las Vegas, and beyond to sellout crowds. She is enshrined in the Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas and is designated a “True Legend” in the Exotic World Museum in that city.
Cortez was also well known among Houston lesbians from her association with early local women’s nightclubs, the Roaring ‘60s, The Rocking Horse, and Marion & Lynn’s.
Cortez is survived by her brother, Edward “Ace” Bronson, of Chicago; her daughter, Carol Black; and a host of friends. Her long-term partner, Martha Caves, preceded her in death in 2005.
A celebration of life is pending. Friends ask that those wishing to memorialize Cortez make a contribution to AssistHers, which aided her in her final months. Details: www.assisthers.org.