The LGBTQ fight for equal rights became organized in 1969, after the riots at New York City’s Stonewall Inn. LGBTQ civil rights activist and author Mark Segal has been involved in the movement from its beginning. Mark joins Robert Traynham for a candid and intimate discussion about his life, his role in the fight for equality, and the state of LGBTQ rights across America and around the globe. Mark is the publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News. This discussion continues in part 2 (Journey Toward LGBTQ Equality).
Interview recorded on May 17, 2017. Hosted by Robert Traynham. Part 1 of 2.
Read a partial transcript of this interview below:
Traynham: The fight for gay rights has been hard-fought for decades. Close to 50 years ago, that fight became organized after the riots at Stonewall Inn in New York City. Hello, everyone, and welcome to “Comcast Newsmakers.” I’m Robert Traynham. Joining me is LGBTQ civil rights activist Mark Segal. He’s also the founder and publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News. Mark was at Stonewall, as well as many other key events, and he joins me now to share his perspective on the state of equality and the evolution of the LGBT community. Mark, it is an honor to have you on the program, and it’s good to see you. Thank you for joining us.
Segal: Robert, great to see you again.
Traynham: You are a living legend. Let me just be completely honest and transparent about it.
Segal: I’m just old.
Traynham: You’re not old. You are a living legend. As I mentioned a few moments ago, you have been at the forefront of so many trials and tribulations — peaks and valleys — within the community. So, one, thank you for being you, thank you for standing up for people like you and I. And just as importantly, I want to chat with you about where we are today, in 2017. Do you feel as though we’ve made some significant progress over the last 50 years?
Segal: I think each of us has our own perspective on that. I think I’m lucky enough to have been someone who joined this movement when there weren’t more than 100 out gay people in America. Think — before Stonewall, the largest demonstrations were in Philadelphia every July 4th, and no more than 100 people showed up at those demonstrations. After Stonewall, which was held just two weeks after that last 1969 demonstration in Philadelphia, a couple hundred gay people rioted. I was lucky enough to have been a witness to that — or participant. And one year later, we held what we called the first Gay Pride march. At that first Gay Pride march, we had somewhere between 5,000 and 15,000 people. Now, taking a movement, in one year, from 100 to 5,000 to 15,000 is amazing. But then take a look at where we’ve come in just 50 years. We have gays in the military. We have marriage equality. We have 30 states that now have nondiscrimination. We’ve moved, and we’ve moved incredibly well as a community.
Traynham: So, you can say that the needle has been moved in the positive direction. I want to go back to the 1970s and early 80s. I think this is important. You mentioned how there were a lot of people that were in the closet, I assume, out of fear. I assume they came out of the closet because of people like you that had the courage to stand up. Was it conviction? Was it courage? Was it a combination of both? Why did you do what you did back in the ‘70s?
Segal: For me, I give credit to my parents and my grandmother. My grandmother, who was an immigrant — because of the pogroms in Russia, came to the United States — she joined the — she was a suffragette — joined the women’s rights struggle. She took me on my first civil rights demonstration when I was 13 years old. Standing outside the Stonewall that night in June of 1969, my mind easily said to me — I watched as women were having their rights, I watched as African-Americans were having their rights, I watched as Latinos were having their rights — and something clicked in me that night and said, “Why not us?” And so in an instant, I guess, standing there, I said, “This is what I’m going to do with my life.” So, it’s been a conviction of me, but that conviction comes from my family.