Review by: Wik Wikholm
Reviewed on: March 01, 2011
No Secret Anymore: The Life and Times of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon adoringly chronicles the lives and activist careers of Del Martin (1921-2008) and Phyllis Lyon (b. 1924), one of the most influential and iconic lesbian couples of the twentieth century.
Martin and Lyon, both trained journalists, met at work in Seattle and became lovers in 1952. Shortly after, the pair moved to San Francisco and settled in the home they would share for more than fifty years. In 1955, the couple and a few friends formed a tiny social group they called the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB). Though the Butch/Femme dynamic of the bars of the 1950s did not offend them (Martin identified as a butch; Lyon identifies as a femme), they hoped DOB would provide a social milieu where lesbians could meet and develop friendships in a less alcohol-fueled and sexually-charged environment than the bars afforded.
Very soon after its founding, DOB decided to pursue an activist course and became the first lesbian homophile organization. While it never grew to have the size or influence of the Human Rights Campaign or the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, glbtq contributor Tina Gianoulis reports that by the 1960s, "DOB had spawned chapters throughout the country, in such cities as Chicago, New York, New Orleans, San Diego, Los Angeles, Detroit, Denver, Cleveland, and Philadelphia" and The Ladder, its publication, had reached about five hundred subscriptions.
Unlike the more radical activists who emerged following the 1969 Stonewall Riots, Lyon and Martin were committed to working with and within organizations in which they wished to see change. Martin, for example, became the first openly lesbian member of the Board of Directors of the National Organization for Women (NOW). Around the same time, the couple published Lesbian/Woman (1972), which declared lesbian independence from the male-dominated gay liberation movement and the need for a lesbian alliance with the feminist movement. The book influenced many activists, but it also helped inspire a positive lesbian identity in thousands of other women who identified with its depiction of lesbianism as a normal variation, not the crime, sickness, or sin with which it was characterized by many institutions of the time.
The film, directed by noted photographer and filmmaker Joan E. Biren (JEB), features extensive, well-edited interviews with Martin and Lyon, but also includes commentary by lesbian seniors affiliated with Old Lesbians Organizing for Change (OLOC) as well as prominent admirers such as Virginia Apuzzo, Charlotte Bunch, Barbara Gittings, Barbara Grier, Lorri L. Jean, Nancy Pelosi, and Urvashi Vaid.
Some controversies surrounding the couple's activism, such as the battle between Martin, Lyon, and other lesbian feminists against then-homophobic NOW leader Betty Friedan, are covered thoroughly, but others are given short shrift. For example, Martin and Lyon express their visceral hatred for the label "accommodationist" with which they and other homophiles have been tarred by some radical post-Stonewall activists and historians, but the film does not provide a concise account of the reasons that change-from-within activists like Martin and Lyon were so labeled. Inevitably, an activist couple as opinionated and public as Lyon and Martin accumulates enemies and detractors, but viewers do not hear from them.
In JEB's accomplished hands, what must have started as miles of interview and clip film and videotape was transformed into a documentary that tells its story in an effective and engaging way. The film provides a thorough account of the chronology of Lyon and Martin's activist careers, but it also gives viewers a personal view of the couple, a sense of knowing them as Phyllis and Del. In light of Martin's death on August 27, 2008, No Secret Anymore is a fitting tribute to Martin and to the career of a couple whose lives and activism are unparalleled in the history of the movement for lesbian and gay civil rights.