Hänschen Rilow and Ernst Röbel


Hänschen Rilow and Ernst Röbel, two characters in Frühlings Erwachen, an 1891 German play by Frank Wedekind translated in English as Spring Awakening (or variations, such as The Awakening of Spring), are a same-sex teenage couple who – in a reversal of later conventions – have the most optimistic storyline in the production. Röbel is a mediocre student on the verge of failing his classes; Rilow, the more apt and sexually forward pupil who seduces him. (Rilow may also be read as bisexual given a scene in which he masturbates to an image of a woman.) The final scene in which they appear takes place in a vineyard and concludes with a declaration of love; remarkable, given that two of the other children end up dead and one on the run after breaking out of a reformatory.

For its frank discussion of sexuality Frühlings Erwachen has been repeatedly censored, including an incident in New York where an injunction had to be sought in order to put on a single matinee performance. (Ironically, Frühlings Erwachen was adapted as a Broadway musical in 2006.)


Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon


Such close partners that Wikipedia lists them both under the same entry, Dorothy “Del” Martin and Phyllis Lyon were at the vanguard of the 20th century United States’ lesbian rights movement. When police raids locked them and several lesbian friends out of bars and dance venues, they formed the social club that would become the Daughters of Bilitis, with Martin at its head. Their newsletter, The Ladder, was the first of its kind – a nationally distributed lesbian publication. After they moved on, Martin became the first out lesbian elected to the National Organization for Women (NOW), as well as an active participant in the San Francisco political scene. Lyon-Martin Health Services, a clinic for queer women that has been active since the 1970s, was named in their honor.

In addition to being inseparable activists, Martin and Lyon were romantically involved for over five decades until Martin’s death. They were the first couple to wed in San Francisco when same-sex marriage was legalized in 2004, and first in line again when it was re-legalized in 2008.