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    Rainbow Honor Walk to Honor Phyllis Lyon, Lesbian Activist and Civil Rights Trailblazer, with Sidewalk Plaque

    The Rainbow Honor Walk this week announced that it has chosen Phyllis Lyon, the world-renowned San Francisco-based activist for lesbian rights and visibility, as its next honoree in the board’s forthcoming slate of 24 new LGBTQ pioneers. To date, the twelve-year-old nonprofit organization, which highlights the contributions of a diverse group of history-making LGBTQ individuals, has placed 36 sidewalk plaques in the Castro.

    Lyon, along with Del Martin, her wife and partner of 55 years, was a co-founder in 1955 of the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB), the first lesbian organization in the country. A year later, the DOB launched the publication The Ladder. They did so in the face of tremendous social opposition during a time often referred to as “The McCarthy Era,” which was characterized by extreme federal, state, and local harassment of the LGBTQ community, including public exposure, condemnation, and job loss. The efforts by Lyon and Martin throughout the decades to win civil and human rights for lesbians and other marginalized peoples have changed the world for the better.

    According to Marcia Gallo—University of Nevada, Las Vegas, professor emerita and New York-based author of Different Daughters: A History of the Daughters of Bilitis and the Rise of the Lesbian Rights Movement (2006)—“Phyllis Lyon was a lifelong San Franciscan whose visionary leadership reflected her passion for social justice.” She continued that, in later decades, Lyon “went on to help organize the first lesbian and gay Democratic club, create the National Sex Forum at Glide Memorial Church, serve on the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, represent lesbians at international feminist conferences, and insist that issues of ageism be addressed within LGBTQ and women’s communities. But her passion for ‘telling it like it is’ never kept her from having a good time. She showed us all how to put the ‘social’ in social change. Her big heart, sharp intelligence, and quick wit inspired a wealth of love and commitment from colleagues, friends, and extended family throughout the world.”

    In recognition of their pioneering status, Lyon and Martin were asked to be the first same-sex couple to be married in San Francisco in 2004 when then Mayor Gavin Newsom began issuing same-sex marriage licenses. In 2008, following the California court ruling affirming gay LGBTQ marriage equality, Lyon and Martin were again the first couple to be legally married, a civil right later upheld by the Supreme Court.

    In 2013, The Rainbow Honor Walk honored Lyon’s lifelong partner with a bronze plaque in its first round of sidewalk tributes. The board is working with the San Francisco Department of Public Works to install the new plaque for Lyon’s near Martin’s on 19th Street, between Castro and Collingwood Streets.

    Working with the San Francisco Department of Public Works, the Rainbow Honor Walk has to date installed 36 plaques along Market Street, Castro Street, and 19th Street. An additional 8 plaques, honoring Gladys Bentley, Quentin Crisp, Divine, Audre Lorde, Leonard Matlovich, Sylvia Rivera, Vito Russo, and Maurice Sendak, are expected to be installed in the spring of 2022.

    Despite Ongoing Pandemic, an Outpouring of Community Support

    On May 27, the Rainbow Honor Walk held its second Rainbow Reels virtual fundraiser, which this time highlighted Lyon and Martin. The evening featured two films about them and their impact and legacy: No Secret Anymore, directed by noted lesbian photographer Joan E. Biren; and One Wedding and a Revolution, directed by Academy Award winner, the late Debra Chasnoff. The films were presented in partnership with Frameline, whose digital archives of LGBTQ films is a national treasure. The event, hosted by Board of Directors Vice-President Barbara Tannenbaum, also featured a lively discussion with historian and author Marcia Gallo and Kendra Mon, daughter of Martin.

    “In these difficult times, I’m moved and grateful to see the outpouring of support from our community, friends, and family. This successful event raised more than $5,000 from donors paying tribute to Phyllis Lyon,” said Board of Directors President Donna Sachet at the time. “Their support enables our volunteer board members to raise the profiles of the notable lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals from around the world who left a lasting mark on society and made significant contributions in their fields/professions. Their courage in perilous times reminds us of how much we can accomplish when we join forces and work together.”

    Published on September 9, 2021