Wednesday, November 24, 2010

DVDebut -- JEB's NO SECRET ANYMORE: The Times of Del Martin & Phyllis Lyon

TrustMovies had never heard of the evidently famous lesbian duo of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon until he recently viewed the documentary about them -- NO SECRET ANYMORE: The Times of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon -- made by yet another lesbian activist of whom he also was not familiar: Joan E. Biren (aka JEB).  This says, he thinks, something about how far apart culturally and interest-wise gays and lesbians have remained over the decades, even while fighting for GLBT rights. The film was released to DVD on November 11, 2010, more or less to coincide with 86th birthday of Phyllis Lyon (shown below, left) on November 10. (Martin, shown at right, died in 2008, at the age of 87.)

These two women, their long history and their enduring relationship, are something to see, and the movie, at only 57 minutes, still packs in a lot of decades, incidents and causes. Among the marvelous reminiscences the two women share with us is the meeting of Martin with Eleanor Roosevelt.  (So impressed and speechless was the younger women that she neglected to even turn around when their photo was taken; we see only Martin's back and Mrs. Roosevelt's smiling, questioning visage.) The film's history begins in the 1940s and takes us through the dark and terribly "conforming" period of the 50s, with its McCarthyism, red-baiting and homosexual/lesbian witch-hunting.

In addition to the hearing from and seeing these two full-speed-ahead activists, we also get a good dose of talking heads (one or two of whom, if I am not mistaken, you will also have seen in Word Is Out) who describe what "normal" life was like for lesbians of that era. Before the formation of the Daughters of Bilitis -- Martin and Lyon (shown above in their younger years, this time with Martin on the left, and below, with Martin back on the right) were among the organization's original eight members -- bars were the only place that lesbians could easily gather, and drinking was rife. "Many of us died from alcoholism," one woman explains. It's fascinating, too, to hear how those original eight members divided along class lines. Four were working-class, who were more interested in making Bilitis a social organization, while the  four middle-class women wanted the group to have political aims.

We see how the lesbian movement was inspired and helped along by the civil rights movement (Daughters of Bilitis was formed in 1955, the year Rosa Parks rode that bus). Later the women's movement would bring another kind of inspiration, despite an anti-Lesbian backlash from the likes of homophobe Betty Friedan, among others. Martin and Lyon helped organize the first outreach to gays and lesbians by religious organizations, with Lyon using her splendid diplomatic abilities at various demonstrations -- and all this several years prior to the Stonewall uprising.

We encounter the sexism of the gay movement, too.  "Working together better came out of the AIDS crisis," Lyon explains.  Down the road would come involvement with everything from domestic violence and battered women to work with Lesbian police officers.  These two gals were both inclusive and politically savvy -- and they understood how to get things done, as is underscored by some pertinent remarks from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi near the film's conclusion. Director Biren, shown at right, has done a fine job of bringing us their story -- which is also the story of the rise of lesbian rights -- in crisp, informative and entertaining fashion. She provides an hour wonderfully well spent.

No Secret Anymore, from Frameline, is out now on DVD, though it does not seem to be available from either Amazon nor Netflix.  So I presume the only place you can get it is here.

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