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Lyon, Phyllis Ann 1924-

LYON, Phyllis Ann 1924-


Born November 10, 1924, in Tulsa, OK; partner of Del Martin (a lesbian activist and writer) since February 14, 1953; children: Kendra Mon. Education: University of California—Berkeley, B.A., 1946; Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality, Doctor of Education (originally Doctor of Arts; human sexuality), 1976.


Home—651 Duncan Street, San Francisco, CA 94131. Office—330 Ellis St., No. 406, San Francisco, CA 94102.


Lesbian activist, educator, and writer of nonfiction. Chico Enterprise-Record, Chico, CA, reporter, 1947-49; Architect and Engineer, Seattle, WA, associate editor, and Pacific Builder and Engineer, Seattle, editorial assistant, 1949-52; James S. Baker Export Company, San Francisco, CA, traffic manager, 1954-64; Glide Urban Center, San Francisco, administrative assistant for operational education department, 1965-68; National Sex Forum, San Francisco, associate director, 1968-72, co-director, 1973-87; LyMar Associates (consulting firm), San Francisco, partner, 1972—. Daughters of Bilitis, cofounder, 1955, and editor of Ladder, 1956-60; cofounder and board member of Citizens Alert, 1965-72; cofounder of National Sex Forum, 1968, and National Lesbian Feminist Organization, Lesbian Lobby, and Alice B. Toklas Lesbian/Gay Democratic Club, all 1972; founding member and chairperson of citizens advisory board, Center for Special Problems of the San Francisco Public Health Department, 1973; cofounder, professor, and registrar of Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality, 1976-87. Minister of Universal Life Church, 1969—. Served on many advisory boards and task forces.


National Organization for Women, Lesbian Caucus, Lesbian Agenda for Action, American Civil Liberties Union, Feminists for Free Expression, National Coalition against Censorship, Feminist Anti-Censorship Taskforce, Southern California Women for Understanding (honorary), Bay Area Career Women (honorary), Humane Society of the United States, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, American Association of Retired Persons.


Gay Book Award for Lesbian/Woman, American Library Association, 1972; Award of Merit, The Prosperos, 1972; Certificate of Recognition, Humanist Community of San Jose, 1973; San Francisco Board of Supervisors Certificate of Merit and Achievement, 1978, commendation, 1980; First Lesbian Rights Award, Southern California Women for Understanding, 1979; Alice B. Toklas Memorial Democratic Club award, 1979 and 1986, for work in lesbian and women's movements; David Award, 1983, for outstanding contribution to the gay community; Cable Car Outstanding Award of Merit, 1988; Franklin E. Cooke Memorial Award, Long Beach Lambda Democrat's Club, 1989, for contributions to the cause of human rights; Earl Warren Civil Liberties Award, Northern California Chapter of American Civil Liberties Union, 1990.


(With Del Martin) The Realities of Lesbianism, D.C. Women's Liberation (Washington, DC), 1969.

(With Del Martin) Lesbian/Woman, Glide Publications (San Francisco, CA), 1972, second revised edition, Volcano Press (San Francisco, CA), 1991.

(With Del Martin) Lesbian Love and Liberation, Multi Media Resource Center (San Francisco, CA), 1973.

Contributor to numerous newspapers and magazines, including Spectrum and Engage, and contributor of chapters to The New Sexuality, edited by Herbert A. Otto, Science and Behaviour Books (Palo Alto, CA), 1971; Our Right to Love, edited by Ginny Vida, Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1978; Positively Gay, edited by Betty Berzon and Robert Leighton, Celestial Arts (Millbrae, CA), 1979; The Lesbian Path, edited by Margaret Cruikshank, Angel Press (Monterey, CA), 1980; Woman and Mental-Health Policy, edited by Lenore E. Walker, Sage Publications (Beverly Hills, CA), 1984; and Dyke Life: From Growing up to Growing Old: A Celebration of the Lesbian Experience, edited by Karla Jay, Basic Books (New York, NY), 1995.


Phyllis Ann Lyon has been a pioneering lesbian activist since the 1950s. Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma and raised mainly in the San Francisco Bay area, Lyon has lived in San Francisco since 1953 with her partner, Del Martin, with whom much of her writing and activism has been undertaken. In Gay & Lesbian Literature, Martin wrote: "Phyllis and I are proud to have played a part in the evolution from the homophile movement of the '50s and '60s to the gay and women's liberation and political-cultural movements of the '70s to the emergence of lesbian visibility and passage of gay rights laws of the '80s to the political clout of lesbians and gays in the '90s."

In the early 1950s, when homosexuality qualified as a mental disorder and a crime, Lyon and Martin established a group for friendship and support among lesbians, which led to the founding of Daughters of Bilitis, the first lesbian political organization. The couple opened an office for the organization and launched the magazine Ladder; this periodical, "which began publication in 1956, was virtually the only forum for lesbian concerns until the 1960s," wrote Jane Jurgens in Gay & Lesbian Literature.

In the '60s and '70s, as many civil rights movements gained ground, the Daughters of Bilitis faced the vicissitudes of associating with gay organizations dominated by men, and feminist organizations, such as the National Organization for Women (NOW, that sought to distance themselves from lesbians. Lyon and Martin persevered with NOW, supporting resolutions at its 1971 and 1973 conventions to denounce discrimination against lesbians.

About the same time, Lyon and Martin published Lesbian/Woman and Lesbian Love and Liberation, which were "two of the earliest works about lesbians written by lesbians," according to Jurgas, and became standard texts in fledgling women's studies and gay studies university courses. In 1973 a Choice reviewer reflected of Lesbian/Woman: "this book should be included in all libraries. It will be read by lesbians, some of whom will read for the first time a positive personal account of their love." Drawing on the experiences of its authors and other lesbians, the book aims to dispel misconceptions about lesbianism. A contributor to Library Journal commended its "straightforward, unpolemical delivery," and its provision of "a wealth of concrete data to enrich further discussions."

The year 1973 also marked the achievement of a twenty-year goal of the Daughters of Bilitis: homosexuality ceased to appear on the American Psychiatric Association's list of mental disorders. For the following fourteen years, Lyon continued her work in the study of human sexuality as codirector of the National Sex Forum, and held numerous workshops and seminars on women's sexuality.

More recently, Lyon and Martin have continued their activism with a new organization, Old Lesbians Organizing for Change, which combats ageism. The couple, recognized as monumental in lesbian history, is the subject of the documentary No Secret Anymore: The Times of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, a film released in 2003.



Malinowski, Sharon, editor, Gay & Lesbian Literature, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1994.


Choice, January, 1973, review of Lesbian/Woman, p. 1510.

Library Journal, August, 1972, review of Lesbian/ Woman, pp. 2628-2629.*

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