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Remarks by Margie Adam on presenting GLAAD's 18th Anniversary Pioneer Award to Del Martin & Phyllis Lyon
I was thinking coming over here tonight, how different things are in 2007 than when I came out.
I came out at a Catholic girls boarding school in 1963. I was fifteen - I was ablaze with sexual energy and passion about everything - and I was scared. I went looking for my people and found only seedy bars, pulp paperbacks written mostly by writers using pseudonyms, and terrifying films where the lesbian or gay man either killed himself, killed someone else or went insane, killed someone and then killed himself. When I listened to music I had to change the pronouns from "he" to "she." I was lonely for my people - for a community.
And then one day I came across Jess Stearn's expose on lesbian life called The Grapevine. I immediately made an anonymous cover for the book out of a brown paper bag and carried it everywhere. In the back of the book was a description of a lesbian organization called Daughters of Bilitis and a Reno address for the organization's literary magazine: The Ladder.
From that moment on I was on a quest. I wrote the Reno address using a fake name and sent $20. No response. I finally found 3 copies at a beatnik bookstore in Berkeley. I remember - as if it were yesterday - walking up to the counter at Shakespeare and Co. I was 16 years old - with three LADDER magazines in my hands. I was terrified that they would call the police because I was underage - that someone would see me buying the magazine, follow me out of the store, and beat me up. My only information about being a lesbian, remember, was coming from seedy bars, pulp paperbacks and terrifying films. In this magazine I was introduced to my people - by writers and poets that included Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon. They were writing about me - they were telling me it was ok to be my whole self out in the world - to be visible - to be my woman-loving, lesbian queer big dyke self.
I met Del and Phyllis face to face in the seventies as I was beginning my career in women's music. I ran into them many times at women's conferences and conventions over the years. I studied their politics, and admired their strategic thinking. I remember standing in an airport in 1973, looking at a copy of their book "Lesbian Woman" and realizing this was the first time I had ever seen the word "LESBIAN" on a bookcover in a mainstream book venue. No brown paper bag covers anymore.
When Del published her book, "Battered Wives." I asked her why she was writing about straight women. She looked at me with her piercing eyes and said: Now that Lesbian/Woman is out in the world there will be others to write about lesbians. Right now there is no one to write about battered wives."
It's clear to me now that Del and Phyllis have always seen themselves as part of the on-going movement for civil and human rights for everyone. So it is natural that they would draw strength from each social movement even as they were bringing their whole selves to each organizing effort for change. However, I don't think I could comprehend what that really meant until I worked as associate producer on Joan Biren's award-winning documentary, "No Secret Anymore: The Times of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon." Listening to them being interviewed as the film was being made, the enormity of their contributions and their tenacious insistence on inclusiveness unfolded story after story.
I remember hearing Del and Phyllis talk about seeking out an African American church the night Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated so they could mourn with others - in community. They described how many in the room looked at them with hostility when they arrived. One woman came up to them and said: "What are you doing here?" They responded: "He was our leader too."
It's that Del and Phyllis have kept moving on - they moved on from the Daughters of Bilitis when the group seemed more interested in socializing than in social change. They brought their commitment to civil liberties and civil rights to the Women's Liberation Movement and made a place for lesbians at the very birth of National Organization for Women. They brought their feminist selves into the gay movement claiming equal space for women. Then they demanded a place for gay and lesbian people and women in the democratic party leadership, and they have most recently been working to make a respectful place for old lgbt people - in our community as well as in society at large. All this by their presence. Always by their presence -bringing all of themselves into the room. By taking up space and being visible - being vocal. And by connecting the dots from one corner of social change activism to another.
The work of GLAAD is also about visibility, about the power of truth and storytelling to transform hearts and minds. Tonight, it is my privilege to pay tribute to two incredible women whose relentless pursuit of dignity and equality for all paved the way for the work we honor tonight. Let's take a look at the remarkable lives and journey of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon.
VIDEO clip from "No Secret Anymore: The Times of Del Martin & Phyllis Lyon" shown to audience.
It is an honor to present GLAAD's Pioneer Award to these two powerful, empowering, fierce and tender progressive feminist lesbians: Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon.
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