On this date, in 1955 (the year I was born) The Daughters of Bilitis was founded by Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, and six other lesbian couples. Many of you will undoubtedly recall that Del and Phyllis were the first same-sex couple ever issued a marriage license in this country, after San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom ordered city hall to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Here they are pictured following their marriage on February 14th of 2004. Look at the people around them — how happy they are for them. That license would later be voided by a judge.
The organization published its own magazine, The Ladder, edited by by Phyllis. Within two years there were more than 400 names on the subscriber list for the publication and it was available on newstands in most major US cities.
The founders of DOB intended for the organization to be a “safe haven” of sorts for lesbians who didn’t want to deal with the bar scene (which was illegal at the time) but who wanted a safer, “well-lit” place to gather socially.
Throughout the 50s and 60s the group provided support and information to the lesbian community and many of its members worked tirelessly toward gay and lesbian rights. In the 1970s some members of the group strongly felt that the group should take the feminist route while others strongly felt the group should stay activist and support the gay rights movement. Eventually the group all but disbanded and, according to one source, a small chapter still exists in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Del and Phyllis became active in NOW (National Organization for Women) and Del was the first openly gay woman to ever be elected to a post at NOW.
Their tireless work on behalf of not only lesbians, but the GLBT community as a whole will be their legacy. These women, on that day in 2004, taught me a lesson. That lesson was that I can’t sit back and wait for people to carve a path for me in this life. If I’m ever to travel beyond my immediate place in life, I must accept the responsibility to carve my own path.
Oh sure, sometimes it’s easier to just travel the well-worn paths that already exist but if we do that, we’ll never have full equality. We must all find the courage to take the path that is less traveled and sometimes we just need to make a whole new one.