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. Click here for part 1 of Journey Toward LGBTQ Equality.
Interview recorded on May 17, 2017. Hosted by Robert Traynham. Part 2 of 2.
Read a partial transcript of this interview below:
Traynham: And it sounds like the two women in your life — your grandmother and your mother — clearly had — They saw something in you to say to stand up and fight and don’t be afraid or ashamed to be who you are.
Segal: Well, we were the only Jewish family in a Philadelphia housing project. And when I would be bullied because I was Jewish, my mother would go down to school, argue with the principal. And the day that we were told to stand up and sing “Onward, Christian Soldiers,” and for some odd reason, I didn’t want to do so, I sat down. I guess that was my first point of disruption, and that was the second grade. My mother had to go to school and debate with the principal why me, a Jew, would not stand up and sing “Onward, Christian Soldiers.”
Traynham: I want to go around the world and talk about some other countries that are not as progressive as the United States. You mentioned the rights of African-Americans, the rights of women, the rights of Latinos in this country, and the rise of the civil rights movement, if you will. But again, in 2017, there are still some countries that are probably not in 2017. They’re probably more 1917 or 1927. How do we kind of move the needle, if you will, on the world stage?
Segal: Depends on where you go on the world stage — Africa, Middle East, Europe, Eastern Europe. Or, luckily for me, I just got back from Cuba, and so I got a chance to see what the fledgling LGBT community in Cuba was like, and that was an eye-opener for me. I was there for their 10th annual Global Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. And they literally had a march which, to me, looked like a Gay Pride march. Approximately 1,000 LGBT Cubans came out to march, and I found that amazing to march with them. So, they were marching, and in between Socialist slogans, you would hear them put up their fist and say, “Down with homophobia! Down with transphobia!” And that sort of, like, brought me back to that first Gay Pride in 1970 in New York. And I remember walking — As we were walking up 17th Street, I climbed up a pole to see how big our crowd was behind us, and they were still coming out of Christopher Street.
Traynham: You know, that reminds me of something, Mark. A couple of — About two years ago, I was on a segregation march — pilgrimage with Congressman John Lewis — as you may know, is a civil rights icon.
Segal: One of my heroes.
Traynham: My hero, too. And I remember he just grabbed my elbow and he said, “The struggle continues. We’ve made progress, Robert” — meaning from an African-American perspective — “but the struggle continues.” And in that moment, I understood what he meant. As far as we’ve come — from an African-American perspective — there’s still a lot more to do. And I get the sense, in the LGBT community, that is very much in play, no?
Segal: Absolutely. And you bring up a great — a great man. When he said to you, “I still have more to do,” or, “We still have more to do,” last year, he went and held a sit-in in the halls of Congress. That should be an inspiration to everybody.
Segal: What an incredible hero.
Traynham: And that sit-in was several hours long.
Segal: He did it all night long.
Segal: The man was incredible. The struggle goes on. We will continue. But what I want to say to everybody — everybody must know, especially young people — I was standing outside Stonewall at 18 years old, not a dime in pocket, living in the YMCA, literally no job, not knowing what my future was. I danced at the White House. I got to meet the president. So, what do I bring with all that? I can truly say to you, life gets better. It will get better. Hang in there. There’s a community out there that loves you and wants to embrace you.