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Residence of San Francisco’s 1st same-sex spouses now a landmark

SAN FRANCISCO – The hilltop cottage owned by a lesbian couple who became the first same-sex partner to legally marry in San Francisco has become a city landmark.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously voted Tuesday to give 651 Duncan St. the home of the late lesbian activists Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin. The house in the Noe Valley neighborhood is slated to be the first lesbian landmark in the western United States, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

“They provided lesbians who were really, really, really in the closet a place to hang out and dance, to have vacation peanuts so they didn’t have to go home and hang out with their homophobic relatives,” said Shayne Watson, an architect historian, who specializes in preserving LGBTQ heritage and was actively involved in the movement to make the home a landmark.

Martin and Lyon, as a couple, bought the simple one-bedroom house that was terraced up the hill in 1955. In the same year they founded the Daughters of Bilitis, a political and social organization for lesbians.

The group started out as a social support organization but quickly turned into activism and politics.

“Bilitis’ daughters had no 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, ”said Terry Beswick, executive director of the GLBT Historical Society.

Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin on July 10, 1972 at their San Francisco home. San Francisco Chronicle / Hearst Newspapers via Getty Images file

Lyon was a journalist who met her lifelong love, Martin, while working for a magazine in Seattle. The couple moved to San Francisco in 1953. Alongside political organization, in 1972 they published a national lesbian monthly magazine and a book called Lesbian / Woman.

Governor Gavin Newsom was a newly elected Mayor of San Francisco in 2004 when he decided to challenge California marriage laws by granting licenses to same-sex couples. His advisors and advocates of gay rights envisioned the perfect couple to be the public face of the movement.

Lyon and Martin, who had been together for more than 50 years by then, were secretly swept into the clerk’s office. They exchanged vows in front of a tiny group of city officials and friends.

Martin died in 2008 and Lyon in 2020, and the house was left to Martin’s daughter, Kendra. The property was sold in September 2020.

After the sale, a loose organization called Friends of Lyon-Martin House was formed to prevent the demolition. The GLBT Historical Society was a financial sponsor.

The new owner, Meredith Jones McKeown, is helping with the land marking and protection of the cabin, the Chronicle reported.

Within six months, the group will come up with a proposal, with a sticker on the sidewalk as an “absolute minimum,” said Beswick. Beswick and Watson both aim to preserve the interior as a college dorm, public research facility, and center for LGBTQ activism and history.

“Nobody wants to see a tour bus in front of their house,” Watson said, “but Phyllis and Del influenced so many lives, including my own, and I firmly believe that the house they did it in is in the community should stay. ” ”

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