Del Martin Quits Gay Liberation Movement Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Lesbian and gay rights activist Del Martin wrote a letter published in the gay newsmagazine The Advocate, denouncing the sexism of gay men in cogender activist groups, a sentiment shared by other lesbians in the gay rights movement. She changed her focus to the feminist and women’s movements, which, however, had rejected in its early years out lesbians as detrimental to the cause of women’s rights.

Summary of Event

When the movement for gay rights began after World War II, lesbians felt motivated to join forces with gays on behalf of LGBT civil rights and against homophobia. The first long-lasting gay activist groups in the United States were the Mattachine Society Mattachine Society (founded 1950) and ONE ONE, Inc.[ONE Inc] (founded 1952). Both groups were overwhelmingly made up of white men. The first lesbian organization, the Daughters of Bilitis Daughters of Bilitis (DOB) had been cofounded in 1955 by eight lesbians. Two of the founders were women of color and six were white, including Del Martin. Shortly after its founding, DOB split over issues of class, race, and whether the group should be social or activist. In 1959, DOB had been instrumental in helping to defeat a homophobic San Francisco mayoral candidate. [kw]Del Martin Quits Gay Liberation Movement (Nov. 28, 1970) [kw]Martin Quits Gay Liberation Movement, Del (Nov. 28, 1970) [kw]Gay Liberation Movement, Del Martin Quits (Nov. 28, 1970) [kw]Liberation Movement, Del Martin Quits Gay (Nov. 28, 1970) Sexism;in GLBT movement[GLBT movement] [c]Feminism;Nov. 28, 1970: Del Martin Quits Gay Liberation Movement[0810] [c]Organizations and institutions;Nov. 28, 1970: Del Martin Quits Gay Liberation Movement[0810] [c]Publications;Nov. 28, 1970: Del Martin Quits Gay Liberation Movement[0810] Martin, Del

By the mid-1960’s, some lesbians were actively objecting to the sexism of gays. In Philadelphia, several lesbians formed the cogender activist group Homosexual Action League Homosexual Action League, Philadelphia (HAL). HAL had less overt sexism because lesbians were in leadership positions. In 1969, the Stonewall uprising galvanized a new generation of activists. Radical Gay Liberation Front Gay Liberation Front (GLF) groups sprang up around the United States, and in the middle of a national wave of social movements, hopes were high for social change.

Soon after this first wave, however, lesbians, who were angry about the sexism they had experienced in “progressive” cogender social movements, and those who had been exposed to the new wave of feminism, Feminism;and GLBT movement[GLBT movement] began to oppose the sexism of the GLF groups. Some lesbians formed women’s caucuses within GLF groups, but eventually most of them left to establish autonomous lesbian groups. The pattern was the same in many cities. In 1972, for example, the Lesbian Liberation Committee of the Gay Activist Alliance in New York City became Lesbian Feminist Liberation. In Los Angeles, Gay Liberation Front women first formed a women’s caucus and then left to form Lesbian Feminists of Los Angeles. Lesbian Feminists of Los Angeles Lesbian groups proliferated and a new national movement had been born.

The lesbian manifesto “The Woman Identified Woman,” "Woman Identified Woman" manifesto (Radicalesbians)[Woman Identified Woman manifesto] which had been drafted by the group New York Radicalesbians Radicalesbians manifesto in 1970, was a rallying cry for lesbian-feminist activism. The now-familiar first sentence of the document expressed lesbian frustration with sexism in all areas of society: “What is a lesbian?” the manifesto asks rhetorically. “A lesbian is the rage of all women condensed to the point of explosion. . . .” The manifesto called for women to work together for a better world: “It is the primacy of women relating to women, of women creating a new consciousness of and with each other, which is at the heart of women’s liberation, and the basis for the cultural revolution. . . .”

The rage of homophile women had also increased. In the November 28, 1970, issue of The Advocate, Advocate, The;and Del Martin[Martin] Del Martin wrote a farewell letter to her “brothers” in the homophile movement.

After fifteen years of working for the homophile movement…I have been torn apart. I am bereft. For I have been forced to the realization that I have no brothers in the homophile movement.…As they cling to their old ideas and their old values in a time that calls for radical change, I must bid them farewell. There is so much to be done, I have neither the stomach nor the inclination to stand by and watch them self destruct. . . .

Martin then listed many of the issues that she as a lesbian took exception to, including how women in cogender gay and lesbian groups were expected to be secretaries and makers of coffee rather than makers of policy; the time spent by men defending washroom sex and pornographic movies; homophile publications that looked like “magazines for male nudist colonies”; and exaggerated “swishing” that in the public mind became the stereotype of gays. Martin added that she felt no hate, only disappointment. She had expected more. She said she was leaving for an environment where there was hope and possibility of personal and collective growth—the women’s movement. In her final paragraph, Martin delivered a parting salvo, saying she was leaving “each of you to your own device. Take care of it, stroke it gently…fondle it. As the center of your consciousness, it’s really all you have.”

After separating from the sexism of the gay rights movement, lesbians hoped to find allies in the women’s movement. Feminism;and lesbians[lesbians] Lesbian feminism As part of their activism, lesbians supported and led projects that benefited a wide spectrum of women including abortion rights, rape hotlines, self-help clinics, battered women’s shelters, and campaigns against media violence. Instead of welcoming their lesbian sisters, however, many heterosexual feminists, who were afraid of being identified as lesbians and compromising the women’s movement, distanced themselves from what feminist icon Betty Friedan labeled the “lavender menace.” Lavender Menace;and lesbian feminism[lesbian feminism]

Friedan was a cofounder of the National Organization for Women (NOW), National Organization for Women and although many lesbians were active in NOW, the organization initially rejected lesbians, especially if they were out. In 1970, out lesbian activists such as Ivy Bottini and Rita Mae Brown were “purged” from the organization. One year later, the Los Angeles chapter of NOW, working with members of Lesbian Feminists of Los Angeles, were instrumental in persuading the national NOW membership to support lesbian rights.


At the same time that lesbian feminists were seeking acceptance from heterosexual feminists, they were rejecting veterans of the homophile movement. Ideological conflicts between lesbian feminists and homophile-era lesbians may have been based partly on differences in political identity development. At the time, “lesbian feminism” had been the term of choice for most if not all lesbians in the movement, but in retrospect, two very different points of view, which could be called “lesbian feminist” and “feminist lesbian,” were at play. Lesbian feminists had more often been heterosexual, then feminist, and then lesbian. Their self-identity could be called “plastic” or “fluid” in the sense of having been modified in significant ways. The latter (feminist lesbians) had been lifelong lesbians who had been influenced by feminism. This difference in identity development led to internal conflicts over issues such as gender roles (butch and femme), monogamy, and whether lesbians were born lesbian or whether lesbian sexuality was “socially constructed” or simply a “choice.”

In addition to issues of identity in lesbian groups, there also were unaddressed issues of race and class. While white lesbians enjoyed a new sense of agency in these new women-only groups, the few lesbians of color in lesbian and feminist groups were faced with the racist attitudes of their white sisters. Eventually, lesbians of color would set up ethnic caucuses within white lesbian and cogender people of color groups. Like the women’s caucuses in the GLF groups, forming caucuses had been a stop-gap measure only. Many lesbians of color eventually left both types of groups to form groups for lesbians of color specifically, where they would be free from sexism and racism.

The issues of race and gender would continue to impact lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) groups. In the 1990’s, for example, the radical group Queer Nation, whose name implied a commitment to “difference” (queer) Queer, as a term and “inclusiveness” (nation), soon lost momentum as a group over issues of sexism and racism. In contemporary LGBTI groups and organizations, the absence of lesbians and people of color often signals the presence of racism and sexism. While racism, in general, has not been addressed within LGBTI communities, the struggle against sexism has fared better. In the 1980’s, some groups, such as the National Gay Task Force and the Los Angeles Gay Community Services Center added “lesbian” to their names. Beginning in the 1990’s, lesbians increasingly gained positions of leadership within LGBTI cogender organizations. Some of these gains came partly because of the loss of so many gay leaders to the AIDS virus. More than thirty-five years after Del Martin had sent her letter to The Advocate, and more than fifty years after she had begun working on behalf of lesbian and gay rights, Martin and her longtime partner Phyllis Lyon continue to advocate for lesbian rights. They were the first LGBTI couple to be married by Republican mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco, California, in 2004, during the challenge to heterosexual-only marriage laws. Sexism;in GLBT movement[GLBT movement]

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bunch, Charlotte. “Lesbians in Revolt: Male Supremacy Quakes and Quivers.” The Furies: Lesbian/Feminist Monthly, January, 1972, 8-9. Available at
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Martin, Del. “Good-Bye, My Alienated Brothers.” In Long Road to Freedom: The Advocate History of the Gay and Lesbian Movement, edited by Mark Thompson. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994. Originally published in The Advocate, October 28, 1970, 21-22.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Radicalesbians. “The Woman Identified Woman.” 1970.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Russell, Valerie. “Racism and Sexism, a Collective Struggle: A Minority Woman’s Point of View.” (n.d.) racesex/.

1950: Mattachine Society Is Founded

1952: ONE, Inc., Is Founded

1955: Daughters of Bilitis Founded as First National Lesbian Group in United States

May 27-30, 1960: First National Lesbian Conference Convenes

February 19-20, 1966: First North American Conference of Homophile Organizations Convenes

August 11-18, 1968: NACHO Formally Becomes the First Gay Political Coalition

July 31, 1969: Gay Liberation Front Is Formed

May 1, 1970: Lavender Menace Protests Homophobia in Women’s Movement

May 1, 1970: Radicalesbians Issues “The Woman Identified Woman” Manifesto

Categories: History