Unsung Heroines: Queer Women Who Deserve Their Own Biopics


Del Martin (1921 – 2008) and Phyllis Lyon (1924 – present)

BIOPIC-WORTHY BECAUSE: They were an influential lesbian feminist activist couple for nearly 60 years.

Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin

THE SUPPORTING CAST: The man who eventually conducted the marriage ceremony for Martin and Lyon and opened the door for other lesbian and gay couples to marry in San Francisco, Mayor Gavin Newsom, leading feminists of the 1970s, including Dianne Feinstein, Shirley Chisholm and Bella Abzug.

SHOULD STAR: Hilary Swank as Phyllis Lyon, out actress Clementine Ford (The L Word) as Del Martin, and Edward Norton as the dashing Mayor Newsom. Swank aces the biopic genre (Boys Don’t Cry, Amelia) and brings heart and depth to every performance, while Ford deserves a chance to show off her acting chops alongside a master of the craft.

Plus, an out lesbian actress playing a lesbian character? Outrageous!

Hilary Swank and Clementine Ford

PLOT POINTS: After a quick look at their individual lives, we should cut to the chase when Lyon and Martin meet on Valentine’s Day in 1950 on a magazine job in Seattle. We should also follow their move to The Castro, where they founded the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB), the first social and political organization for lesbians in the United States, in 1955.

Later, we’ll need to watch as they join the National Organization for Women, which was not always welcoming to lesbians. In fact, Martin was first openly lesbian woman ever elected to NOW.

As with the LGBT movement, the 1970′s were an exciting time for feminist politics, with battles over abortion and the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) (which was, incidentally, reintroduced before Congress yet again this week). Like the story of Martin and Lyon, the feminist political scene of that era is well overdue for the big-screen treatment.

Of course, the film would not be complete without depicting their eventual legal marriage in San Francisco in 2008. When Martin died two months later with Lyon by her side, Newsom ordered that San Francisco flags be flown at half-mast.

TAKE A POPCORN BREAK: Duck out during the montage of Lyon and Martin working on their books about lesbian politics. It’s more interesting to watch activism than to watch people writing about activism.

SHOULD BE DIRECTED BY: Katja von Garnier, who captured the heart and spirit of feminist politics with her powerful film about the women’s suffrage movement, Iron Jawed Angels.

Just as Iron Jawed Angels should be required viewing for all high-school seniors (especially the girls), the Martin-Lyon biopic should be automatically placed in the Netflix queue of any newly out young lesbian who doesn’t care about feminism or who thinks Bette and Tina’s turbulent relationship is the sole pop culture depiction of a lesbian romance of epic proportions.

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