Tag Archives: Daughters of Bilitis

Gay History – September 21: Edward II, Daughters of Bilitis Formed, Fannie Flagg and Happy Birthday Dan Savage

1327 – Edward II is murdered in his prison cell supposedly after having a red hot iron thrust up his rectum (in reaction to his homosexuality of course).

1944:  Fannie Flagg (born September 21, 1944) is born. She is an American actress, comedian and author. She is best known as a semi-regular panelist on the 1973–82 versions of the game show Match Game and for the 1987 novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, which was adapted into the 1991 motion picture Fried Green Tomatoes. In the late 1970s, Flagg had a relationship with American writer, Rita Mae Brown (born November 28, 1944). Flagg also lived for eight years with former The Bold and the Beautiful actress Susan Flannery (born July 31, 1939).

1955:  Daughters of Bilitis, the first lesbian organization, is formed by four lesbian couples, including Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin.

The Daughters of Bilitis was originally formed as a social alternative to lesbian bars, which were subject to raids and police harassment. As the DOB gained members, their focus shifted to providing support to women who were afraid to come out. The DOB educated them about their rights, and about gay history. Historian Lillian Faderman declared, “Its very establishment in the midst of witch-hunts and police harassment was an act of courage, since members always had to fear that they were under attack, not because of what they did, but merely because of who they were.” The Daughters of Bilitis endured for 14 years, becoming an educational resource for lesbians, gay men, researchers and mental health professionals.

1971: Thomas Craig “T. C.” Jones the great American female impersonator passes away. T. C.”was known for his impersonations of stars such as Tallulah Bankhead, Judy Garland, Katharine Hepburn and others. He has been described as “probably the best female impersonator since vaudeville’s late famed Julian Eltinge”.   Although Jones was straight he had a huge gay following. T. C. Jones also appeared in New Faces of 1956, directed by Paul Lynde.

Jones made a number of television appearances, including portraying a homicidal transvestite with a penchant for strangling nurses in “An Unlocked Window”, an Edgar Award-winning episode of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour in 1965 and another killer transvestite in “Night of the Running Death”, a 1967 episode of The Wild Wild West. Jones appeared in a male role opposite Jayne Mansfield and Mamie Van Doren in the film Three Nuts in Search of a Bolt (1964) and played dual male/female roles as Mr. and Mrs. Ace in The Monkees’ film Head (1968)

1993: Actress Amanda Bearse comes out while co-starring on the television series Married with Children. Bearse publicly announced her lesbianism in an interview in the September 21, 1993 issue of The Advocate, where she also encouraged other gay celebrities to use their fame and position to increase gay visibility.

In the interview, Bearse expressed relief at having been outed by the tabloids. “The outing really was quite a freeing experience. . . . That one thing, that one big secret is out. For a lot of people, it was just a confirmation of what they thought about me. I mean, I look like the girl next door, but I was always kind of off-center.”

1998: “Will & Grace,” the first prime-time program to feature openly gay lead characters, premiers. While a solid hit. many find the gay stereotyping offensive.

2010:  Dan Savage (born October 7, 1964) and husband Terry Miller upload their first It Gets Better video on YouTube, to help prevent suicide among LGBT youth. Dan is an American author, media pundit, journalist, and activist for the LGBT community.

In his writing and public appearances, Savage has clashed with both social conservatives and the LGBT establishment. He has opposed Rick Santorum’s views on homosexuality and advocated for gay marriage and other LGBT causes. He has made several controversial public statements in various media, often lambasting people with whom he disagrees.

Gay and Lesbian Rights Pioneer Phyllis Lyon Dies At Age 95

Gay and Lesbian Rights Pioneer Phyllis Lyon Dies At Age 95

Phyllis Lyon has died at 95 - Dallas Voice

SFist reports:

One of the founding members of the Daughters of Bilitis and one half of the first same-sex couple to be legally married in San Francisco in 2004, Phyllis Lyon, has passed away. She was 95, and reportedly died of natural causes early Thursday.

Lyon and her wife Del Martin (pictured above) were famously the first couple to be granted a marriage license by then Mayor Gavin Newsom on Valentine’s Day 2004, and her life was characterized by a commitment to activism and equal rights for all.

“I’m very sad to learn of the death this morning of Phyllis Lyon,” writes legendary LGBTQ activist Cleve Jones. “I met Phyllis and Del in 1972 and it changed my life. Two of the most remarkable people I’ve ever known.”

The DOB advertised itself as “A Woman’s Organization for the purpose of Promoting the Integration of the Homosexual into Society.” The statement was composed of four parts that prioritized the purpose of the organization, and it was printed on the inside of the cover of every issue of The Ladder until 1970:

Education of the variant…to enable her to understand herself and make her adjustment to society…this to be accomplished by establishing…a library…on the sex deviant theme; by sponsoring public discussions…to be conducted by leading members of the legal psychiatric, religious and other professions; by advocating a mode of behavior and dress acceptable to society.

Education of the public…leading to an eventual breakdown of erroneous taboos and prejudices…

Participation in research projects by duly authorized and responsible psychologists, sociologists, and other such experts directed towards further knowledge of the homosexual.

Investigation of the penal code as it pertain to the homosexual, proposal of changes,…and promotion of these changes through the due process of law in the state legislatures.”

Both Phyllis Lyon and her partner Del Martin went on to form the Council on Religion and the Homosexual (CRH) in northern California to persuade ministers to accept homosexuals into churches, and used their influence to decriminalize homosexuality in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They became politically active in San Francisco’s first gay political organization, the Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club, which influenced Dianne Feinstein to sponsor a citywide bill to outlaw employment discrimination for gays and lesbians. Both served in the White House Conference on Aging in 1995.

They were married on Feb. 12, 2004, in the first same-sex wedding to take place in San Francisco after Mayor Gavin Newsom ordered the city clerk to begin providing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but that marriage was voided by the California Supreme Court on August 12, 2004. They married again on June 16, 2008, in the first same-sex wedding to take place in San Francisco after the California Supreme Court’s decision in In re Marriage Cases legalized same-sex marriage in California.

Thank you Phyliss for all that you did for us.

Rest in peace.

Gay History – March 10,1958: WABD-NY Hosts First Televised Daytime Discussion With Gay Panelist

While not the first television station to feature a televised panel discussion on “homosexuality” (that honor would go to WRCA which did one a year and a half earlier but that program did not include any real-live gay people.)  WABD in New York decided to host a discussion on “homosexuals” during it’s lunchtime public affairs talk show program Showcase.  

While looking for guests the producer contacted Tony Segura, the New York chapter president of the Mattachine Society, about coming onto the program. Segura agreed to appear but only on the condition that his name wasn’t mentioned and he could wear a hood while on the air because homosexuality was still at that time a felony in the state of New York with a punishment of up to twenty years in prison.

The program that day dealt mainly with dispelling some of the stereotypes about gay people.

No one is really sure what happened next.  Perhaps it was blow-back from the public or pressure from the then all powerful Archdiocese of New York.   But the higher-ups at WABD cancelled the follow-up show the next day which was scheduled to host another discussion, this time about lesbians, with a member of the New York chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis.  Fifteen minutes before airtime, the topic was cancelled and the guests were to talk about something else — anything else. Because one of the guests, Helen King, had written a book about handwriting analysis, that was chosen to be the riviting topic of the day, but not before the host for the day, Fannie Hurst, announced that “after the high plateau reached yesterday, the station feels we are a little premature.” The guests quickly exhausted the topic, and the program ended early as Hurst apologized once more for the fact that the program had “undergone severe censorship,” and expressed the hope that “fear of living” would in time be replaced with enlightenment and human understanding.  Hurst closed the show saying  “hail but not farewell.”

Unfortunately no footage from either of the episodes has survived.

September 21, 1955: Pioneer Lesbian Group Daughters of Bilitis Founded by Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon

Phyliss Lyon and Del Martin

On September 21st, 1955, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon had been together as lovers for three years when they complained to a gay male couple that they did not know any other lesbians. The gay couple introduced Martin and Lyon to another lesbian couple, one of whom suggested they create a social club.  And thus the first ever social, civil. and political rights organization in the United States the Daughters of Bilitis was born

In October 1955, eight women — four couples — met to provide each other with a social outlet. One of their priorities was to have a place to dance, as dancing with the same sex in a public place was illegal. Martin and Lyon recalled later, “Women needed privacy…not only from the watchful eye of the police, but from gaping tourists in the bars and from inquisitive parents and families.” Although unsure of how exactly to proceed with the group, they began to meet regularly, realized they should be organized, and quickly elected Martin as president. From the start they had a clear focus to educate other women about lesbians, and reduce their self-loathing brought on by the socially repressive times.

The name of the newfound club which was chosen in its second meeting was Bilitis  which is the name given to a fictional lesbian contemporary of Sappho, by the French poet Pierre Louÿs in his 1894 work The Songs of Bilitis in which Bilitis lived on the Isle of Lesbos alongside Sappho.  “Daughters” was meant to evoke association with other American social associations such as the Daughters of the American Revolution. They also designed a pin to wear to be able to identify with others.  The organization filed a charter for non-profit corporation status in 1957, writing a description so vague, Phyllis Lyon remembered, “it could have been a charter for a cat-raising club.”

By 1959 there were chapters of the DOB in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Rhode Island along with the original chapter in San Francisco.

Soon after forming, the DOB wrote a mission statement that addressed the most significant problem Martin and Lyon had faced as a couple: the complete lack of information about female homosexuality in what historian Martin Meeker termed, “the most fundamental journey a lesbian has to make. When the club realized they were not allowed to advertise their meetings in the local newspaper, Lyon and Martin, who both had backgrounds in journalism, began to print a newsletter to distribute to as many women as the group knew. In October 1956 it became The Ladder, the first nationally distributed lesbian publication in the U.S. and one of the first to publish statistics on lesbians, when they mailed surveys to their readers in 1958 and 1964. Martin was the first president and Lyon became the editor of The Ladder.

The DOB advertised itself as “A Woman’s Organization for the purpose of Promoting the Integration of the Homosexual into Society.” The statement was composed of four parts that prioritized the purpose of the organization, and it was printed on the inside of the cover of every issue of The Ladder until 1970:

  1. Education of the variant…to enable her to understand herself and make her adjustment to society…this to be accomplished by establishing…a library…on the sex deviant theme; by sponsoring public discussions…to be conducted by leading members of the legal psychiatric, religious and other professions; by advocating a mode of behavior and dress acceptable to society.
  2. Education of the public…leading to an eventual breakdown of erroneous taboos and prejudices…
  3. Participation in research projects by duly authorized and responsible psychologists, sociologists, and other such experts directed towards further knowledge of the homosexual.
  4. Investigation of the penal code as it pertain to the homosexual, proposal of changes,…and promotion of these changes through the due process of law in the state legislatures.”

Del Martin had written that the Daughters of Bilitis was a feminist organization from the beginning, focusing on the problems of women as well as problems of the female homosexual; however, in the mid-1960s feminism became a much higher priority to many of the women in the organization. In 1966, Del Martin and Lyons joined the National Organization for Women,

A November 1966 essay by DOB president Shirley Willer pointed out the differences in problems faced by gay men and lesbians: gay men dealt more with police harassment, entrapment, solicitation, sex in public places, and until recently few women were being arrested for cross-dressing. Willer pointed out the problems specific to lesbians were job security and advancement, and family relationships, child custody, and visitation.  Feeling as if their issues were not being addressed by gay organizations.

The Daughters were also affected by the changing times. Younger members did not share the concerns with older members; they were more moved by revolutionary tactics. Problems in the organization of the national governing board were becoming increasingly worse when local chapters were unable to take action on issues important to them without the approval of the national board.  Members became disillusioned and left, and younger lesbians were more attracted to join feminist organizations. By the time the 1968 convention was held in Denver, less than two dozen women attended

The Daughters of Bilitis, which had taken a conservative approach to helping lesbians deal with society, disbanded in 1970 due to the rise of more radical activism.

Both Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon went on to form the Council on Religion and the Homosexual (CRH) in northern California to persuade ministers to accept homosexuals into churches, and used their influence to decriminalize homosexuality in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They became politically active in San Francisco’s first gay political organization, the Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club, which influenced Dianne Feinstein to sponsor a citywide bill to outlaw employment discrimination for gays and lesbians. Both served in the White House Conference on Aging in 1995.

They were married on Feb. 12, 2004, in the first same-sex wedding to take place in San Francisco after Mayor Gavin Newsom ordered the city clerk to begin providing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, but that marriage was voided by the California Supreme Court on August 12, 2004. They married again on June 16, 2008, in the first same-sex wedding to take place in San Francisco after the California Supreme Court’s decision in In re Marriage Cases legalized same-sex marriage in California.

Del Martin passed away two months later on August 27, 2008  She is survived by her wife Phyllis Ann Lyon

* The complete surviving organizational records of the national office and the San Francisco Chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis are available to researchers as part of the Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin Papers at the GLBT Historical Society, a nonprofit archives and research center in San Francisco.