This week, Oct 1, will be Del Martin's memorial service. It will take place in the rotunda at San Francisco City Hall, a grand and glorious building and surely a place to honor and celebrate a woman of stature.
But I will step back a bit to the first night I met Phyllis and Del. I was in the process of moving back to California from New Mexico with my dear friend Kathleen Look. We were headed for California so I could start my new job as the Executive Director of Lyon-Martin Women's Health Services. As we were driving through Arizona, I got a call from my future boss that there would be a huge benefit for Lyon-Martin, featuring three stars of the “L Word”. Whoa, I was going to get to meet some Hollywood typesmy first day back!
But what was even more important, I was going to get to meet Phyllis and Del. I literally sat at their feet, asking to come visit them at home so I could get to know them better. Phyllis, as usual said “Sure dear, call and you can come over.” From that moment on my life was never the same. I had long conversations about them, the history of the movement, the interactions between them and Harvey Milk, their personal histories, interactions with local politicos and even more fun, talking politics.
I loved hearing Phyllis's laugh as she described the long haired Jewish guy from New York who had found his paradise in San Francisco. Phyllis and Del were still wearing skirts and blouses while Harvey never seemed to find a barber. Diametrically opposed in many political ways of the City, Harvey liked to stop traffic with his lines of men holding his signs. Phyllis and Del were a bit quieter, they had just bought their house together which was quite the sin for two lesbian lovers of the day to be so blatant.
Anyway, I had just driven in to California, dropped off my stuff at my mom's house in Santa Clara and kept right on going up to the City. Good lord if we could have bottled all the estrogen in the hall that night, I would never forget another word ever again. I got to meet cast members and sheesh was it packed. Phyllis and Del were there, and I presumed them to be holding court. This was such a bad presumption, I was way off the mark. As I said before, Phyllis was very welcoming. Del,while just as welcoming, was on the quieter side.
I would take them to events every once in a while. Howard Dean was in the City once, using the lgbt community as an ATM. I brought Phyllis and Del. This was just after their first wedding so a lot of people came to say hello and offer congratulations. When the talking started, of course everyone tried to say something to Dean. After a while I had to inject myself and say “Will you people let Phyllis and Del say something?” Boobs, everyone has a good idea but I would rather hear from people who have a good idea with actions to back them up.
Del talked about the need to follow the actions of many who have gone before us. They were both great fans of Eleanor Roosevelt so she talked about Madam Eleanor and the conferences she convened for women and why couldn't the DNC do something like that?
At the end of the evening I walked them to the car. This was four years ago and Del was already showing a lot of frailty. I offered my arm but she only want Phyllis to help her. Phyllis said, “But Del, Gloria is a lot stronger than me.” (Moi!?) But, no, she only wanted Phyllis. What a moment to be able to witness. Pure, sweet love and trust.
Their wedding was such a joy, packed, but a real joy. I feel so blessed to have been there. At one point I was standing next to singer Margie Adam who will be singing today at the service. She said “Listen to the beauty of this, all these women's voices.” It was a wonderful contrast to all the hate mongers outside.
Phyllis told me later that while they were waiting for the ceremony in Gavin's office, Del was like a little kid. “Is it time yet, is it time yet?” Can you imagine being on the verge of making history, reaching a goal?
So despite all the kerfuffle about who was married first, a couple of 55 years, women in their 80's were the first to cross the line, leading as always. To hear the homophobes I wonder what damage Phyllis and Del have done to marriages all around the country. These two, so in love for all these years, have caused the downfall of western civilization. Wow, they are powerful.
Today we go to say goodbye, to honor a life well lived. When I first went to their house, I started crying. It is as true today as it was that day in May – I owe them for my life. I can be who I am, out and proud because Del Martin and Phyllis Martin were not afraid to be who they were in the 1950's. And they never looked back.
Thank you, my sister, for being such a warrior. I promise to always remember you and tell everyone I ever meet that Del Martin was my sister.