Gay history will now live on forever within a San Francisco home.
San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on Tuesday to make the home of late lesbian activists Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin a landmark. This makes it the first lesbian landmark in the U.S. West, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Lyon and Martin were the first same-sex couple to marry in San Francisco, and the one-bedroom hilltop cottage standing at 651 Duncan St was their home since 1955. On top of their landmark marriage, the couple was active in San Francisco’s LGBTQ community.
After moving to the city in 1953, the couple founded the Daughters of Bilitis, a social and political group for lesbians. In addition, they published a national monthly magazine for lesbians and published a book called Lesbian/Woman in 1972. The couple then got married in 2004 when then-Mayor Gavin Newsom issues licenses for same-sex couples.
“The home they shared for more than half a century was the site of many community gatherings and has clear historic value that needs to be preserved and memorialized,” said Noe Valley Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who introduced the resolution and saw it through the Historic Preservation Commission, after the landmark vote. “I’m proud of this historic action to create the first local landmark focused on the history of the lesbian community.”
“They provided a place for lesbians who were really, really, really in the closet to hang out and dance, have holiday potlucks so they wouldn’t have to go home and hang out with their homophobic relatives,” said Shayne Watson, a Mill Valley architectural historian who specializes in LGBTQ heritage conservation and was active in the movement to get the home landmarked. The Daughters started as a social support organizations but quickly transformed into activism and politics.”
“There were other homophile organizations at the time, but they were mostly by and for men,” said Terry Beswick, executive director of the GLBT Historical Society. “The Daughters of Bilitis didn’t have an office space, so 651 was really ground zero for the lesbian rights movement at the time. It was a place where people could be safe and reveal their sexuality.”
Martin died in 2008 and Lyon died last year in 2020. The house was then left to Martin’s daughter Kendra, according to the Associated Press. She then sold the property in September 2020. The new owner, Meredith Jones McKeown, fully supports protecting the house’s history. The building will now gain a sidewalk plaque as “a bare minimum,” according to Beswick. As for the interior, those involved hope to keep it as a student residency and a center for LGBTQ activism.