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    The Day the Curtains Came Down Documents the Queer Caregiving Team of Phyllis Lyon During the Last Years of Her Life

    By Deb Svoboda–

    Lesbian icons and trailblazers Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon met in Seattle in 1950 and moved in together in an apartment on Castro Street on Valentine’s Day in 1953. In 1955, the two cofounded the Daughters of Bilitis, the first lesbian civil and political rights organization in the United States.

    My name is Deb Svoboda, and I am an Emmy Award-winning director, cinematographer, and storyteller. Before Phyllis Lyon passed in 2020 at the age of 95, I was one of her “caregiver friends” during the last few years of her life. Phyllis and Del’s San Francisco home, now a designated landmark, is where I filmed much of the footage for my documentary, The Day the Curtains Came Down.

    Deb Svoboda

    The home is where, for the last few years of her life, the transgenerational team of queer caregivers entered Phyllis’ daily reality, and helped shape it, as she (and Del) did ours. Through all of the challenges, the community of caregivers and Phyllis’ loved ones succeeded in allowing their icon and dearly beloved to be herself and pass away in her own home, surrounded by love. 

    In my documentary, I hope to give the viewer a glimpse into the remarkable community of queer caregivers—and to convey the importance of culturally competent care while embracing all stages of a trailblazer’s life. Interestingly, the very community that stepped up for Phyllis just happened to be the one that she and Del cultivated and grew in San Francisco as well as worldwide.

    After Del passed in 2008, Phyllis, feisty, fiercely independent, and strong, rejected all forms of traditional care—and her Alzheimer’s diminished her ability to care for herself. Because many queer elders end up in senior homes that are not culturally queer competent, and where they are unable to be their true selves, her family and loved ones devised a way to secretly provide care for her, without sacrificing her integrity and independence. The team of younger queer folks who would be her caregivers would only call themselves “friends” to Phyllis. Phyllis’ family wanted her to, as much as possible, stay in control of her reality.

    All of her caregiver friends knew the story of “the day the curtains came down” because, on most evenings, Phyllis would tell the story of when being a lesbian was dangerous and scandalous. When society accepted queerness enough, the curtains no longer needed to be drawn.

    Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon

    A few more scenes of the documentary are yet to be filmed, along with interviews, color grading, audio mixing, creation of the music score, and postproduction. With your help, the documentary will highlight causes that Phyllis was so passionate about—including aging, civil rights, and the essence of feeling safe to be yourself.

    Phyllis and Del paved the way for us, making the world a better place. Please consider being a part of keeping their legacy alive by joining us on the journey of honoring this beautiful stage of life and some of the early trailblazers of our time.

    Any contribution of any size will be appreciated. To learn more, call or text Susan Berston at 415-596-4900 or go to:

    Deborah “Deb” Svoboda is an Emmy winning director, cinematographer, and editor. She specializes in telling stories of social justice issues, and elevating people who have been marginalized or misunderstood. She has a knack for finding unusual angles and perspectives that are often overlooked. One of the highlights of Svoboda’s life was spending time with Phyllis Lyon in all of her complexity.

    Arts and Entertainment
    Published on January 11, 2024