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Home Articles LGBTQ News For Mark Segal, Pride remains a rousing call to action

For Mark Segal, Pride remains a rousing call to action

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Philadelphia Gay News publisher Mark Segal
Philadelphia Gay News publisher Mark Segal
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When Mark Segal moved to New York at age 18 in search of community and a sense of belonging, he could not have known he’d have a front-row seat to a pivotal moment in LGBTQ history, nor of the fire it would stoke in him.  

Segal — a street kid who came to New York from Philadelphia with the clothes on his back and no plan B — vividly recalls when the police descended upon the Stonewall Inn with a zealousness, unlike the usual blink-and-you-miss-it raids that were customary among such establishments at the time. Typically, bribes were exchanged — often with a shot or two of homophobia — and the NYPD would be on their way.  

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This night was quite different. Nothing would ever be the same — not for our community, nor for Segal.  

The Stonewall Riots turned the dial for the LGBTQ community, beckoning us out of the darkness into the light, and they happened for one simple reason — Stonewall’s patrons and the surrounding LGBTQ community of Christopher Street and Greenwich Village (aided by many of our allies) refused to accept the police’s brutality and indecency any longer.  

The crowd surged, incensed at the treatment of the arrestees, and the NYPD became overwhelmed and called for backup. It was too little, too late. As Segall recalls, the police themselves became incarcerated, unable to even exit the Stonewall as the crowd outside grew, getting a taste of the helplessness they intended others to feel.  

Dazed, Segal made his way across the street and watched the riots unfold. Like many young people present, he was in shock — some had yet to experience a raid at all.   

He saw white-collar men flee the scene as fast as they could — in 1969, an arrest at a gay bar meant their names would be printed in the paper. This often meant being fired from your job, losing your marriage or family, and total social ostracization.  

Street kids like Segal, on the other hand, had nothing to lose. For many of them, the riots were a beginning and call to arms.   

It was the night that would define Segal’s life. He knew going forward his mission would be helping to forward the LGBTQ community. He was so young that he had no idea what that would entail, yet in the 55 years since (“Do your quick math,” he chuckles) he has forged quite a path, consistently advocating for the LGBTQ community through policy advocacy, meaningful protest, and the power of the pen.   

“But when I crossed that street [from Stonewall] I said that this was what I was going to do for the rest of my life. I jokingly say I have a PHD — Professional Homosexual Doctorate. ” 

In the early 70s he co-founded the New York Gay Liberation Front, working to end LGBTQ invisibility. Soon after he notoriously crashed two television broadcasts when network news so often refused to acknowledge our community. This included the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite, where he waved a sign that said, “Gays Protest CBS Prejudice.” The iconic anchorman not only supported Segal in subsequent court proceedings but would become his valued friend and an ally to our community.  

Inspired by activist Frank Kameny — a key figure in the gay rights movement and co-founder of the Mattachine Society — Segal started the Philadelphia Gay News in the mid-’70s. His column Mark My Words has received numerous awards and accolades. Under the auspices of the Obama administration, he has also been instrumental for over a decade in the implementation of affordable housing for LGBT seniors, a project which commenced with Philadelphia’s John C. Anderson Apartments and continues to unfold nationwide.  

Segal was married to his husband Jason Villemez in 2014 by Dan Anders, Philadelphia’s first openly gay judge. His memoir, And Then I Danced: Traveling the Road to LGBT Equality, was published in 2015.   

Segal is currently aiding preparations for the Stonewall National Monument Visitor Center, set to open next door to the Stonewall Inn in time for New York Pride. With exhibitions, lectures and much more, its goal is to honor the history of the LGBTQ community in America and those who pioneered it.   

Mark Segal is the publisher of the Philadelphi Gay News
Mark Segal is the publisher of the Philadelphi Gay News and a LGBTQ activist for 55 years.

It’s a full circle moment — Segal is among a select group who are living their own history — yet his work is far from finished.  

He caught up with me to talk about the significance of Pride, why we can’t take our rights for granted, and much more.   

Thank you for taking the time to talk with us for our Pride issue, Mark.  

Mark Segal: I’m happy to!  

I understand you’re helping efforts to open a museum of sorts at the Stonewall Inn.   

MS: Okay, let’s get this right — [it will be called] the National Park Service Stonewall Historical Visitor Center. It’s a mouthful.  

Is my understanding correct that it’s in the actual location of the original Stonewall, which is next door to what it is now?    

Mark Segal is the publisher of the Philadelphi Gay News
Mark Segal is the publisher of the Philadelphi Gay News and was in New York 55 years ago

MS: Absolutely correct. When you come in, you will actually see the door where you entered the bar, and you’ll be able to literally walk the footprints of other people who used to go into [the original] Stonewall — it’ s sort of amazing.   

During this process, because of the building — the bar that’s there now, the recreation of Stonewall — when you enter that recreation, you enter through the left. A lot of people who claim [to have been at the original location] describe it that way, but you would enter double doors, walk down the short hallway, make a right — a right, not a left — go through the red curtains, and you’d be in.   

As they took everything down from the last 50 years [for the visitors’ center] that had been on the walls or on the floors and brought it down back to the beams and right back down to the brick, all of a sudden I got a call from Diana Rodriguez, who is running this project — it’s her passion — and she said, “You’ve gotta come up here!” I did, and she said, “Look! Look! You were right! There it is — the bricked-up doorway!” I was sort of thrilled about that. It’s a little itty-bitty thing, but it meant a lot to me.  

Vindication! It seems more people say they were there during the riots than there really could have possibly been. Is that accurate?  

MS: Oh, absolutely. When I go places and speak people ask me how many were there, but no one can answer that question. And how do you decide who was there? Was it the people who were in the bar? If you use that figure, some people came out and just ran away. Or is it people who just stuck around? That’s another group of people. Or were there people who were passing by, standing on a corner watching? What number do you use?  

And then it’s [a matter of] what took place? Well, it took place over several blocks and over several hours. Nobody could have seen everything.   

So when I’m asked to describe or define Stonewall, my reaction to those questions are, okay, who was there the next night? Who was there the night after that? Who was there a week after that? Who was there a month after that? And we have some answers for that, because the first book that was printed in that period was called The Gay Militants by Don Thiel, which was published in 1971. It lists a lot of people.   

Yes, Stonewall is very contentious. It’s probably the most contentious part of our history that there is.  

It certainly seems so.  

Mark Segal is the publisher of the Philadelphi Gay News
Mark Segal is the publisher of the Philadelphi Gay News

MS: In 1971 I moved back to Philadelphia, and I became very happy with my life and the things I was doing, so for a long time I stayed out of the argument — I was too busy concentrating on my future and next steps to be bothered with a debate. I didn’t want to get into it — and yet when I’d go up [to New York] to visit my friends, they were always arguing about Stonewall. My focus was on ending invisibility through my campaign against the TV networks…  

Yes! Ending invisibility. That’s a big thing, one you’ve mentioned before.  

MS: It’s my life motto. I think it crystallizes — I believe that. It’s what I learned. You know, from the ashes of Stonewall came the Gay Liberation Front. And our motto was “Out loud and proud!” Well, what’s that? You put that into one word: visibility. We were not going to be, you know, that green-eyed monster in the closet anymore. We’re going to be out. You’re going to be able to see us, going to know who we are. You realize we’re part of society and we’re contributing — so get over it!  

Change began for you personally, as well as for the community, when the uprising began. Can you take us back to that night a little bit more? I know the raids happened frequently — it probably didn’t even seem like much of a shock.  

MS: Oh no, it was a shock.  

To your system?  

“Women are fighting for their rights, Blacks are fighting for their rights, Latinos are fighting for their rights. What about us?”   

MS: Absolutely. Lights blinked, and I asked someone what was going on and they casually said, “Oh, it’s just another raid.”   

But it was not “just another raid” — usually that would mean the police come in, get a payoff, and leave.   

This time they didn’t do that. This time, they burst through the doors. This time, they started smashing up the bar. This time, they took bottles and threw them. This time, they took people and threw them up against the wall. This time, they screamed and yelled derogatory statements right to our faces. I was in total shock. I had never seen anything like this in my life before.   

Mark Segal is the publisher of the Philadelphi Gay News
Mark Segal is the publisher of the Philadelphi Gay News

The joke I often say now is I would have called the police — but these were the police who were doing this to us. And at that point, I was not only frightened, I was extremely sad and depressed because I was wondering, once again, what did we ever do to deserve this? Why are we being treated like this? You know, I’m just a guy out trying to have a nice night…  

But I think for me it all changed as I got out of the bar. There were people standing around, and I decided to stand around with them. I don’t know what I was standing around for or why, which was just to watch, just to experience.   

I think things changed when the police had done all the damage they could do, got whatever they wanted, and wanted to leave. They opened the door and we threw things, whether it be coins in our pockets, something we picked up from the street. There was no brick, just little things we threw — and they closed the door. And this happened several times. My line for it now is that for years the police were incarcerating us — this was the first time that we incarcerated the police. So they had to call for backup. And a lot of stuff is going on around me, and a lot of thoughts are going through my head…  

I can imagine.  

MS: Remember, this was 1969 — the height of the counterculture 60s. Women are fighting for their rights, Blacks are fighting for their rights, Latinos are fighting for their rights. What about us?   

[That’s when activist] Marty Robinson came up to me with a piece of chalk and said, “Go up and down the street and write ‘Tomorrow Night Stonewall.’”   

Marty was head of a very small group — I think there were four of us — called the Action Group, who felt something needed to be done. I’d met them just a few weeks before. And so I did as he said, and the following night, he and Martha Shelley spoke from what were the steps of Stonewall. Every single night after we were out leafleting, and Gay Liberation became a thing.   

The first march from Washington Square to Stonewall was on July 30, one month after, which most people aren’t aware of. And we started changing the world [through the] Gay Liberation Front.  

The first thing we did was [promote] acceptance of self-identity. We were no longer going to be a scientific term in a bottle on some scientist’s shelf called “homosexual.”  

Homosexual, right. It sounds very clinical and doesn’t connote something positive.   

“on the first anniversary of Stonewall, we created Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day, which has become Gay Pride.”

MS: Right. To this day, I’m a gay man — my pronouns are old gay man, by the way. [laughs]   

Then, [our mission was to] be out loud and proud and change society and start caring for our own community. We created a medical group, where we put out pamphlets on medical issues, and a legal pamphlet on what you could do if you’re arrested. What are your rights? Who could you call? We created a gay youth organization. We created a trans organization. We were all inclusive. We began to do demonstrations.   

If all that were not enough, on the first anniversary of Stonewall, we created Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day, which has become Gay Pride — that was done by Craig Rodwell and Ellen Broidy. Most people don’t know it was those two who wrote the resolution.   

And this was all under the umbrella of the Gay Liberation movement, correct?  

MS: The Gay Liberation Front.   

Front. Okay.  

MS: That’s an important distinction because historians who didn’t like the Gay Liberation Front because [they found it] too radical or because we worked with the Black Panthers started leaving off that word and just saying “gay liberation movement” or “gay liberation community.”   

And all of this started out from the efforts of just a sprinkling of you? It must have been so vindicating to see people marching en masse just a year later.  

MS: Overwhelming. Yeah, I mean the best way I can describe it — and luckily I’ve had time to research and look back on everything, to know all the players from a little before me and up to now — and I was just thinking about this today before you called — is that there was a movement before Stonewall. Compton’s Riot in San Francisco, Dewey’s in Philadelphia, Randy Wicker picketing the Army Induction Center, Frank Kameny at the White House — all those things happened before.   

But the death of the old movement was July 4, 1969, because five days previously, there was Stonewall. And in 1970, one year after, Ellen and Craig read the resolution that we’re going to do a march in New York, that we were not doing it in Philadelphia [on a smaller scale as in years before].  

One year later, when we created Gay Pride, we didn’t know if there’d be violence in the street because we were leaving our neighborhood and walking across town to Central Park. I remember doing civil disobedience lessons because I was one of the marchers. We really didn’t know who was going to show up or how many.   

We had no idea at all that it would be in the thousands. None.   

I remember, you know, from the front of the march, being somewhere uptown and climbing a pole — something I don’t do today, I assure you — and looking back and seeing people were still coming out of Chrystie Street. It was just…overwhelming. Overpowering. I had chills down my back. I don’t think I’ll ever have chills like that again. And that’s how I knew we’d built something. You know, from 100 to 15,000 in one year is amazing.   

And I think the difference is that those men and women in [previous Philadelphia marches] were trying to assimilate. We weren’t assimilating. I mean, those people were wearing dresses and suits and ties — we were in jeans and T-shirts. Normal people, just being yourself. I mean, [the earlier marchers] were brave, but not in touch with the times.   

Would you say they were trying to package themselves in a way that was maybe more acceptable, more heteronormative?  

MS: Absolutely.  

It leaves the power a little anesthetized, doesn’t it?  

“Judy Garland had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with this. It’s offensive to those of us who were there.” 

MS: And don’t you think a lot of [LGBTQ] organizations since have tried to do the same thing?  

But it was clear that things were now changing in a big way. We were not going back.  

If we’ve created a community — if — it’s by taking on the challenges faced by those of us in danger and supporting them. That’s community.

I’m tripping a switch you’re familiar with, but so many people these days have misconceptions about what happened. I know you’ve mentioned the brick being thrown that was not really thrown. What are some other things about the Stonewall riots that people have gotten wrong through the years that you can easily clear up because you saw them firsthand? 

MS: The thing that’s most offensive to me is when people bring up Judy Garland. Judy Garland had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with this. It’s offensive to those of us who were there. 

I was going to bring that up because it sounds romantic, but it doesn’t sound logical. 

MS: To me, it’s silly. I was there because the police did something very bad. At first I was very sad [about that] and then I was very angry. I was reacting to the police — not to some songstress.  

It might seem strange to you being as young as you are, but through the 1960s there were hundreds of riots — yes, gay riots, but also racial riots, riots against the war… It was counterculture 1960s. Why is it our riot is the only one where people say there was dancing in the streets and people singing? That’s a stereotype. It was a riot! It wasn’t an MGM musical. 

And we love those MGM musicals. 

MS: Me, too! I’m a gay man. I love to go to Broadway. I love musicals! 

It almost seems to be implied that [Judy Garland’s] death might have been something that spurred people on, but that’s so nebulous. How can you possibly say that with certainty? 

MS: My husband knew [this irritated me] and he’s brilliant at researching. A good deal about the myths surrounding Stonewall comes down to one simple word — logic. So you want to look at where the first person who ever wrote [the idea that Judy Garland’s death inspired the riots] is. The first person who ever wrote that down was a straight reporter from the Village Voice who was friendly with Inspector [Seymour] Pine, who did the raid. 

It was often said that [LGBTQ] people went to the funeral and came down [to Stonewall] and they were angry. [When you look at] the New York Times photo archives [from Garland’s funeral] you see housewives, housewives. You don’t see any you would assume to be gay men who were Judy Garland fans or whatever. We saw that. So take those two pieces of information.   

I’ve also heard things like it was really the trans folks who started it, and I’ve heard that a lesbian threw the first punch. You always think, the person who’s telling me this — they may believe the information — but who told them? And it’s been some time. 

MS: Right. The first thing is when there’s a riot, you don’t take a roll call. You don’t know who’s there. And if I told you I knew everyone who was there and everything that happened that night, that would be absolutely wrong.  

One of the things we’ve done at the Visitor Center, which I’m so proud of, is this: If you were to ask almost anybody in our community [about Stonewall and who was there] they’ll give you two names, and that’s it. Well, there were many people at Stonewall. And we what we wanted to do was to showcase the story of Stonewall and the many voices from Stonewall. So we’ve gotten quotes from Bob Kohler, Jerry Hoose, Martha Shelley… We tell the story of Stonewall, but we encapsulate many voices, and I think that’ll be the first time people will be able to experience that, especially inside the Stonewall, which makes it even more special. 

It’s a larger story. But the facts that everybody that can agree on are [that] police barged into the building, people gathered outside, people threw things at the door, police tried to leave, police couldn’t leave, police called for reinforcements. And I think that’s the major part of the story. And then from that comes organization and a spirit that builds a community. That’s a simple way of putting the story, but everybody agrees on that.  

You know, who threw the first brick? Well, I knew the [person] who said they threw the first brick, and later on, she admitted that she didn’t throw the brick. But did I see anyone throw a brick? No. Did I see people throwing things? Yeah. Can I tell you what their names are? No. I’d been in New York for six weeks. How many people did I know? I knew Jerry, I knew Bob, I knew [Zazu] Nova — none of them threw a brick, and I’m not even sure they threw anything. 

It was a variety of people. There were trans people — although we didn’t call them trans people at that time. They would call themselves [different things] and a lot of the terminology has changed since 1969, and that’s a good thing, because that means people are really self-identifying as they would want to be and feeling comfortable in their own skin, which is what [gay men wanted] as well.  

Those are the important highlights more than anything else. From the spirit of Stonewall came the Gay Liberation Front, and that grew a community. I like to think of that first year as the first magic year — from Stonewall to Pride. And it amazes me all that we accomplished in that first year, considering how Gay Liberation Front was probably the most dysfunctional organization I have ever belonged to. I’m thrilled about that.  

We debated everything to death. You had to reach a consensus, which meant [meetings went on] hour after hour after hour. When you walked in the room, someone threw up a stick, and whoever caught it was the chairperson that night! It was crazy, yet somehow that created the magic which created everything that we have today. 

One thing I don’t understand — you said most times the police would come, take a bribe, and leave — is what on earth made that night that different? Why were they so aggressive and awful? 

Mark Segal is the publisher of the Philadelphi Gay News
Mark Segal is the publisher of the Philadelphi Gay News and a LGBTQ activist for 55 years.

MS: The story that I hear, that I’ve been told — and I believe it — is that every once in a while the higher-ups would say, ‘Let’s clean up the city and make sure people know about it.’ And we were the trash they were cleaning up. 

So posturing for the public eye? 

MS: Yes. 

Okay. 

MS: For me, it goes back to them saying I was a piece of trash. That’s what they thought of my life. 

At 18, when you have everything ahead of you. Everything. You’re not even fully formed yet. You’re just starting, really. 

MS: That night did form me because I was like many of the street kids of that day. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I was still trying to work it all out. But when I crossed that street [from Stonewall] I said that this was what I was going to do for the rest of my life. I jokingly say I have a PHD — Professional Homosexual Doctorate.  

I knew I was going to do something to help the community, but I didn’t know [then] how to do it. People weren’t being paid to do that at that time. Today, we have executive directors making hundreds of thousands of dollars. No one made any money in those days from what we were doing, so I didn’t know where that was going to take me. I had no idea. 

Well, it took you to Walter Cronkite. It took you to Mike Douglas. 

MS: You cannot remember Mike Douglas! You are way too young. 

Well, yes, but you can still find out about things, right? 

MS: [Laughs.] Well, I would move from one project to the next. I didn’t have time for all the Stonewall debates — I would go one from thing to another, [including co-creating] the National Gay Press Association, helping to organize LGBTQ media. 

You know, I thought it was about time to start speaking up. And then when I did speak up, I discovered people were able to hang on to those words because they were just so logical compared to the silly stories out there about [our community].  

I’m fascinated by your interactions, which were really gutsy, like squirreling yourself away, I believe, in the studio the one time. That was with Barbara Walters, right?  

MS: Yep. I stayed — did not sleep — in a closet, all night. I know. [Chuckles.] But hey, how else do you hide?  

And interrupting the Cronkite broadcast, you did that with a friend, right? 

Mark Segal is the publisher of the Philadelphi Gay News
Mark Segal is the publisher of the Philadelphi Gay News

MS: Yes, with Harry Langhorne.  

I’m heartened and touched that Barbara Walters wanted to get the story right, even though she was irritated because you broke her rhythm, and that Walter Cronkite not only really came through for you but became a friend on top of that. What can you tell us about the significance of your relationship with him? 

MS: Again, my whole concept of doing the TV disruptions was to make people talk about [our community].  I mean, I used to have people who’d come up to me and say, ‘How dare you hurt Uncle Walter?!’ And I didn’t mind the fact that they were angry at me. I was happy for the fact that they had to talk about what the subject matter was.  

I believe that becoming visible creates communication. Communication brings education. So, since CBS wouldn’t talk about censorship or how its news division was biased [against acknowledging LGBTQ people] we decided to disrupt CBS. And the only thing you could do to disrupt it would be to do a disruption of a live broadcast, because all the other shows were taped. And, you know, if you’re going to do this, you might as well do it big. So, go after the biggest thing they have. 

“I got a tap on my shoulder. I turn around and the man said, ‘You must be Mark Siegel.’ I looked at him and said, ‘You must be Walter Cronkite’”

And in those days, CBS Evening News was the place where everybody got their news. Remember, there was no Internet. There were no cell phones. So, if you got your news in the evening, you got it from Walter Cronkite. He was the most trusted man in America.  I mean, he had 60 million people watching, and that’s amazing. I mean, those are Super Bowl numbers, but [even in] those days, that would be considered [comparable to the] Super Bowl.  

We decided we were going to do it after the commercial break so that they couldn’t stop us from doing that disruption. After the first commercial, Walter comes back on the air, he’s reading a story about security procedures, and [that’s when] security slipped up and I slipped between him and the camera, sat on his desk, and held up a sign that said GAYS PROTEST CBS PREJUDICE. I then got wrestled to the floor by stagehands and camera people and the CBS network went blank. That appeared in almost every newspaper in America the following day. 

So I got arrested and [was represented by retired civil rights lawyer] Hal Weiner. He said, ‘We’re going to subpoena Walter Cronkite.’ They said, ‘No, you’re not, Walter’s too busy.’ He said, ‘Well, if you don’t allow me to just come through the doors and do that, I’m going to Xerox one hundred copies of the subpoenas and give them out to Gay Liberation Front members and Hells Angels of New York and offer a $1000 bounty for Walter.’ Well, he walked into the doors of CBS the following morning and served Walter. 

[In the hallway during a courtroom break] I got a tap on my shoulder. I turn around and the man said, ‘You must be Mark Siegel.’ I looked at him and said, ‘You must be Walter Cronkite’ and he said, ‘Why did you do what you did?’ I said, ‘Well, your show is biased’ and he looked at me with umbrage. 

I said, ‘If I prove it to you, will you change it?’ And he just kept staring, didn’t say a word to me. I said, ‘You did a story about 5,000 women walking up Fifth Avenue proclaiming International Women’s Day — why didn’t you report when 15,000 gay men and women walked up Sixth Avenue proclaiming Gay Pride? You just reported on the third time that New York City Council refused to pass a gay rights bill. Why haven’t you reported on the 25 other cities that have?’ 

He turned around and walked away. After they showed the film of the disruption, the next person the prosecution called to the stand was Walter. 

The first statement from the prosecutor was, ‘When these people trespassed into your studio…” and Walter said, ‘Excuse me, they didn’t trespass. We invited them in.’ 

Thank goodness! 

MS: We were still found guilty, but only fined $200 — which, by the way, I couldn’t afford to pay.  

Who paid for the services of Hal Weiner?  

MS: Hal donated his services. A guy by the name of name of Morty Manford is the one who got Hal to do that. He was an activist, and his mother [Jeanne Manford] was known for starting PFLAG. 

[Sometime later] I was at the Democratic National Convention. I was wearing just a regular shirt and pants, I’m walking down the hall, and there were four people walking towards us with tuxedos and gowns. And I realized, ‘It’s Walter.’ [I was going to just let him and his party walk by, but] Walter turns around says, ‘Mark!’ I  walked over to him and he said, ‘You know, I haven’t seen you in a while — next time you come to New York, why don’t you call me, and we’ll have lunch?’ And I did. 

He was one of the most generous men I have ever known. If I had a journalistic problem which I couldn’t solve, I could call Walter. Not many people had that honor. When he came to Philadelphia for a function, we’d always have lunch. And he would tell me that I could invite someone if I wished, which I always did because they would always be impressed with Walter.  

And I was able to call upon him to do several things [for our community]. Sometime [in the early 2000s] I produced an Elton John concert on the Philadelphia Benjamin Franklin Parkway for AIDS awareness, and our opening act was Walter Cronkite. We had him tape the opening message.  

Oh, my goodness!  

“I would call Walter Cronkite and ask for special requests of various things that were going on around the country, and he never said no. Never. Not once. He was my journalistic mentor, as Milton Schapp was my political mentor.”

MS: It was a free concert on the Parkway, which was really nice. And again, I knew nothing about producing concerts when I did that, but we got it done. 

One important thing about Walter — the reason he was looking [out for] me was because he was a real damn good journalist. And he wanted facts and things to be correct. And while he never admitted to being biased, did he ever admit that the show was biased? Well, about a week after the trial, if you saw his show, he came back from another commercial and he pointed out cities that did [acknowledge] gay rights struggles.  

I’m struck by that because we don’t really see a lot of that thoughtfulness and that idea of “Let me consider and examine my own bias, my own little bubble that I’ve been in.” It just seems a rarity for someone in such a high position to say, “Maybe I could do better.”

MS: And he did, he absolutely did. I would call him and ask for special requests of various things that were going on around the country, and he never said no. Never. Not once. He was my journalistic mentor, as Milton Schapp was my political mentor.  

I’ve known young people, including some who are non-binary, trans, maybe questioning their identity — you do all you can to hold space for them and you thank God that things are different now, and a lot of that is because of the work of your generation. Yet I also notice many young people aren’t aware of what’s at stake for our community. The bright side is things must be going well for us now or else they wouldn’t feel like they can put their heads in the sand, but it’s when you’re not looking that your enemies can change things. How often have you seen that pendulum swing for us?  

MS: Oh, many times in my life. We’re in the middle of what I like to call a backlash, but it’s not the first time — there was Anita Bryant, there was the Moral Majority, there was the push against gays in the military, the push against marriage equality. Each of them had their time, and guess what? We were better off at the end of each and every one of those backlashes, and we will be on this one. Why? Because every time they go up against us, we’re before the cameras or on social media explaining what our positions are. When you talk from the heart, people respond to that.  

I find it interesting that of the hundreds of pieces of anti-LGBTQ legislation going on, the majority of them are anti-trans or anti-drag, and I think I understand that to some extent — we have been successful in showing that gay men and lesbian women are just like everybody else, we’ve been visible, but our trans community has to some extent been largely in the closet. That means we need to give them more visibility and let them tell their story. We’ve had our chance, and now it’s time for them to tell their story and for us to give them the space they need.  

I also think about young people who say they “don’t do” politics. Maybe they’re too young to remember how exciting 2015 was, and how emotional, when we had marriage equality. They’re deluged by negativity — Trump this, Trump that, what have you — and that can spur apathy. And yet many of them will show up for Pride events to celebrate, have fun, dance the night away — which is great — and yet sometimes I wonder if the overall meaning of Pride is lost or forgotten a little bit.   

Mark Segal interview by Rudy Palma

What is one thing you would say — no pressure — to someone who’s younger, who may not really have a grasp on the history of why Pride is so important, that it’s not just about getting out there and being your authentic self and having fun and celebrating?  

MS: I would try to explain to them that up until 1970, Pride was illegal…and they were illegal. And if they don’t take a look at what’s going on, the entire LGBTQ community will be cancelled.   

We need you to listen and pay attention, and if you do nothing else, just go and vote. You don’t have to listen to all the speeches, you don’t have to listen to the rhetoric, you don’t even have to get involved in activism — I’d love you to, that would be wonderful — but just remember that if you “don’t do” politics, politics will do you in.   

Yes.  

MS: So you have to get involved for your reproductive rights, for your right to get married, for your right to vote — these are core values that we need to take care of, and this election is one that’s going to speak to those issues. And many others!   

If you can use one word for this election, it’s really about democracy.  

Absolutely. It’s on the line in a way that I once never imagined possible in my lifetime.  

MS: You mentioned “the pendulum” — in my lifetime I saw Richard Nixon, which I thought was the worst, then I saw Ronald Reagan, which I thought was even more horrendous because of what he did to AIDS, and then I saw George W. Bush who used us as a weapon to get re-elected. I want everyone to remember there was a gay man [Ken Mehlman] who was running his campaign who came up with the idea of putting marriage equality on the ballots in several states so George W. Bush could get crowds out to vote for him because they’d also be voting against our marriage. And then, I’m seeing Donald Trump.  

Going by that pendulum, we’ve gone as far right as we can go, I think — and I’m expecting that pendulum to go back again. That’s my hope. We shall see. I hope your pendulum idea is correct!  

It sounds like we share it and that you have a pretty good grasp on it after all you’ve done.  

MS: Well, none of us are always right or always wrong. I’ve made some incredibly bad mistakes in my life, but all in all, I’ve been lucky that a few of the things that I’ve done have helped some people, and that’s what really counts. You go home, look in the mirror and ask, “Did you do anything for anybody?”  

Right. There’s only so much you can do, but you do what you can.  

MS: Exactly.   

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