Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin met in 1950, and spent more than 50 years together until Del passed away in in 2008. Their relationship has been so important to our community that it was worthy of the documentary No Secret Anymore: The Times of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon.
The 2003 documentary, directed by Joan E. Biren, is now available on DVD through Frameline, and it follows Del and Phyllis’ work as partners and as individuals over several decades. Most famously, the women are known as being part of the Daughters of Bilitis, one of the very first lesbian organizations founded to bring gay women together in hopes of achieving equality. They were behind the publishing of The Ladder, a lesbian magazine, and were out at a time when you were fired, arrested or killed for thinking it was OK to be gay.
While No Secret Anymore is an endearing look into their lives (and offers adorable and poignant interviews with the women as well as their peers), it isn’t as thorough an offering as the 2006 book Different Daughters: A History of the Daughters of Bilitis and the Rise of the Lesbian Rights Movement. However, there are moments that make it worth watching, including snippets (and a DVD extra of the full interview) with former speaker of the house Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi was a huge advocate of Phyllis and Del and, as a representative in 1995, appointed them as delegates of the White House Conference on Aging. In the documentary, she speaks lovingly of their work for equality and their love for each other.
Among the events chronicled are Phyllis’ work in having homosexuality removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders by the American Psychiatric Association and Del’s writing of Battered Wives and subsequent work with women suffering from domestic violence. It’s also worth mentioning on World AIDS Day that they were among the first lesbians to come together with the gay male community to support them during the AIDS epidemic, despite the gender divide of the ’60s and ’70s.
Before Del died a few years ago, the longtime partners married in California and were vocal in the gay marriage movement. Phyllis continues to be active in the LGBT community and recently attended the GLBT Historical Society’s Silver Anniversary in San Francisco.
You can buy your own copy of the film from Frameline for $30, but if you’re really interested in knowing more about the women and their advocacy, I’d suggest getting yourself a copy of Different Daughters and their legendary publication, Lesbian/Woman.