Del Martin, 1921-2008

Pub date September 3, 2008
WriterMarke B.


Young LGBT activists have so few actual royals to look up to — people who’ve spent their entire adult lives fighting for increased visibility and equal rights — let alone those who’ve been doing it since the freakin’ 1950s. Del Martin was one of that precious handful, which is why her passing on Aug. 27 feels like someone yanked the carpet hard. Yes, along with her wife Phyllis Lyon, she embodied the struggle for marriage equality and brought much of America to tears with her "I do." (Even in death she’s still working it — her family has requested donations be made in her honor to fight that heinous Proposition 8 in November at

But gurl, do you know about the rest of her?

At almost every stage of her long life, Del was doing something that slaps me across the face, screaming, "Stop watching YouTube! Get out there and change the world!" She went to bat not only for other LGBTs, but for the aging, the sick, the homeless, and women as a whole. She risked harassment, imprisonment, and even rape to bring her oppressed lesbian sisters together in her Daughters of Bilitis organization more than half a century ago. Especially fierce to me — and perhaps to all other editors, writers, and zinesters — was her and Phyllis’ publication of The Ladder in 1956. One of the first official lesbian magazines, The Ladder proved the power mere words can have to start a movement, even if they’re mimeographed in secret and passed around in lunch bags. Sapphic samizdat!

Ours is still a relatively young movement, one that lost a whole swath of heroic voices to AIDS and violence. Fighters who have achieved such selfless radical achievement for as many decades as Del did are miraculously strange and wonderful birds, indeed. Fly on, Del, and thank you.