Phyllis Lyon remembered as gay and lesbian rights pioneer

Veteran gay rights activist Phyllis Lyon has been honoured by friends and supporters following news of her death this week.

Lyon, along with wife Del Martin, was an early champion of gay and lesbian rights in the US.

She died of natural causes, aged 95, at her San Francisco home, The Guardian has reported.

Martin passed away in 2008, just weeks after the two were among the first gay couples to legally wed in California.

Lyon and Martin met in 1950 and were pioneers of LGBTIQ activism and strong supporters of the community.

“Before cell phones, they always had their phone number listed in the phone book in case any young or terrified LGBTQ person needed help or support,” said friend Kate Kendell, former executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

Lyon, also famous for her award-winning work as a feminist writer, has been remembered fondly by many.

Friends from politicians to community members have taken to social media to share their memories and honour Lyon, as well as Martin.

California governor Gavin Newsom, who as mayor of San Francisco gave the couple the city’s first same-sex marriage licence, called Lyon and Martin “the manifestation of love and devotion”.

“Phyllis—it was the honor of a lifetime to marry you and Del,” he wrote on Twitter.

“Your courage changed the course of history.

“Rest in peace my dear friend.”

Lambda Legal called Lyon an icon of lesbian history, posting that she has left “a remarkable legacy of activism for equality”.

California Senator Scott Weiner also honoured Lyon’s contributions to activism over many decades.

“Phyllis Lyon fought for LGBT equality when it was neither safe nor popular to do so,” he said.

“Phyllis and her wife Del played a crucial role winning the rights and dignity our community now enjoys.

“We owe Phyllis intense gratitude and love for her work.”

Lyon and Martin co-founded the Daughters of Bilitis in San Francisco in 1955, the first lesbian social and political organisation in the US.

They were the first lesbian couple to join the National Organization for Women, and over several decades used their influence to fight for decriminalisation of homosexuality and the introduction of anti-discrimination laws.

In later life, they were both made delegates to the White House Conference on Aging, representing the interests of older lesbians in policy recommendations.

San Francisco landmarks including the city hall and airport have been lit up with rainbow lights to honour Lyon.

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