Martha Shelley didn’t start out in life wanting to become a gay activist, or an activist of any kind.
The daughter of Jewish refugees and undocumented immigrants in New York City, she grew up during the Red Scare of the late 1940s and 1950s, was inspired by the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements that followed, and struggled with coming out as a lesbian at a time when being gay made her a criminal.
Shelley rose to become a public speaker for the New York chapter of the lesbian rights group the Daughters of Bilitis, organized the first gay march in response to the Stonewall Riots of 1969, and then cofounded the Gay Liberation Front. She coproduced the newspaper Come Out!, worked on the women’s takeover of the RAT Subterranean News, and took a central role in the Lavender Menace action to confront homophobia in the women’s movement.
Martha Shelley’s story is a feminist and lesbian document that gives context and adds necessary humanity to the historical record.