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    Work of Lesbian Civil Rights Pioneer May Revolutionize CA’s Violence Prevention Strategy

    The Rainbow Honor Walk plaque installed on 18th Street in the Castro.

    “A man wishing to plant a tree in his yard was advised against this idea by his gardener. The tree would take a hundred years to bear fruit, said the gardener. ‘In that case,’ said the man, ‘we had better begin immediately.'” John F. Kennedy, quoted from the outside back cover of the 1982 Ounces of Prevention report

    Kendra Mon, the daughter of lesbian civil rights pioneer Del Martin (1921–2008), recently shared the above quote with us. A favorite of her mother’s, it reminds us that goals sometimes take decades to achieve, with the rewards not necessarily benefiting earlier generations who did the initial visionary work. Such is the case for Martin, whose efforts concerning crime control and prevention have been continued by Mon and will likely soon influence legislation statewide.

    Crime control is not something that many of us would associate with Martin, who with longtime partner Phyllis Lyon (1924–) in 1955 founded the first social and political organization for lesbians in the U.S.: the Daughters of Bilitis. The couple were married in 2014 in the first same-sex wedding to take place in San Francisco. After that marriage was voided six months later by the California Supreme Court, they married again in 2008 in another same-sex wedding historic first. Lyon-Martin Health Services, still going strong in San Francisco, was named after them, and Martin in June of this year was one of the inaugural fifty American pioneers, trailblazers and heroes inducted on the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor within the Stonewall National Monument.

    Discovery of a 37-Year-Old Report

    Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin

    Less known is that Martin in 1976 authored the first book in the U.S. concerning domestic violence, Battered Wives (Volcano Press, 1976). “As a result of this book and her related advocacy work,” Mon informed the San Francisco Bay Times, “Del was appointed to the California Commission on Crime Control and Violence Prevention. When I was going through her papers after she died, I came upon the 1982 Final Report to the People of California prepared by the commission.”

    Mon, a member of the National Department of Peacebuilding Committee, noted how this Ounces of Prevention report outlined problems and offered solutions that are still in alignment with the goals of her committee today. As a cover letter that was found with the report mentioned, “a non-violent future requires some fundamental changes in what we teach our children, how we resolve interpersonal conflicts and act institutionally to deny equal opportunity to whole classes of persons. Perhaps most important, it calls for each of us to critically examine our basic values and cultural assumptions and to actively refuse the violence in our lives.”

    A Shift in Thinking About Crime, Violence

    Importantly, the report highlighted the root causes of violent behavior. These may include poverty, misogyny, institutional racism, other forms of inequality, drug addiction, childhood abuse and additional factors. The work of Martin and the commission marked a shift from looking mostly to the prison system for solutions and instead to the more complex problems that interconnect with crime and violence.

    Mon, other members of her committee and their supporters believe that “it is in the public’s interest to translate the findings of the commission into community-empowering, community-activated violence prevention efforts that would educate, inspire, and inform the citizens of California about, coordinate existing programs relating to, and provide direct services addressing the root causes of, violence in California,” she shared.

    Assembly Bill 656

    Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon in the 1976 Gay Freedom Day Parade on Polk Street

    To that end, she has been advocating for Assembly Bill 656, which would create the Office of Healthy and Safe Communities within the Department of Public Health. The new Office would be charged with developing, implementing and monitoring a statewide comprehensive violence prevention strategy. This would include promoting safe, stable and nurturing environments for children, families and communities; support for rape crisis centers; formation of an advisory committee including representatives from communities heavily impacted by violence; and much more.

    The bill would further require the director to strengthen the professionalization of community violence intervention and prevention as a licensed occupation and would facilitate the coordination and alignment of programming across statewide departments and agencies, among other duties.

    For the purposes of these provisions, the bill would appropriate the sum of $6 million from the General Fund for the 2019–2020 fiscal year. As of this writing, AB656 cleared two California assembly committees and the full assembly before it went to the senate. In the senate, the bill cleared two committees, but was tabled by the Senate Appropriations Committee this year after an August 12 hearing date.

    “With any luck,” Mon said, “the tabling will be undone, recommendation from that committee will lead to passage by the senate, and Governor Newsom will sign it into law.” She added that this would all have to happen before September 13, which is the last day in 2019 to pass a bill in the state legislature.

    Whatever the outcome of AB656, Martin’s legacy will continue to affect positive change. Mon will continue her own work as well. Like her mother, she is in it for the long haul and desires long-lasting, effective solutions to problems that are often centuries in the making.