Pioneering America's Gay Rights Movement

with Mark Segal of Philadelphia Gay News

The 1969 Stonewall riots are widely recognized as a catalyst of the modern movement for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer equality. Fifty years later, what is the status of LGBTQ rights?

Mark Segal, LGBTQ activist, journalist and publisher of Philadelphia Gay News, reflects on the history of the LGBTQ equality movement and the status of LGBTQ rights today.

Posted on:

Oct 11, 2019

Hosted by: Paul Lisnek
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Lisnek: In 1969, the modern-day gay rights movement was sparked by what are known as the Stonewall Riots in New York City. Here we are 50 years later. What's the status of LGBTQ equality? Hi. Welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Paul Lisnek. Joining me is a man who has been part of the movement since its beginning, Mark Segal -- gay rights pioneer, founder, publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News. Mark, it is a true honor to have you here.

Segal: Great to be here.

Lisnek: You bring a world of history, and one of the places I want to start is when I think of the image that LGBTQ people have today versus what it was 50 years ago, have we come a long way or not?

Segal: Oh, my God. It is, uh, night and day. Let's see. When we first -- when I first started in 1969, we weren't on TV. We weren't on radio. We weren't in magazines. We were nowhere. You had to go to a public library to find us. Today we're here in a TV studio. Today you'll find executives in this company. [Today you will find anchors. You will find newspeople. You will find characters on TV. If you look at the political system, you'll find governors, Senators, congresspeople who are openly LGBT. Yeah, we had none of that.

Lisnek: Well, it's funny. As you sort of said, you know, "We weren't on TV. We weren't seen." I thought to myself, "Well, maybe people weren't, but you were," because back in those days, in the days of Walter Cronkite -- and I hate to say this, but for younger viewers, we might have to remind them who Walter Cronkite was, 'cause he was absolutely a legend --you showed up on TV.

Segal: Yep. My belief always was that if society -- if we were really going to find our place in society, society had to know us, and the place you get them to know you is the media, and if we were invisible in media, we would never get there, so when media wouldn't allow us on TV, I decided something had to be done, and, since they wouldn't meet with us, the only way we could show that we were serious was to disrupt their television shows.

Lisnek: And you did.

Segal: And we did. Cronkite: With security precautions heavier than those provided President Nixon, Secretary of State Kissinger --

Segal: Gay people are protesting CBS's policies.

Lisnek: What's amazing is some could -- Walter Cronkite, who is a legendary newsman, he was the CBS anchor. The famous clip of him announcing the Kennedy assassination -- but what was interesting to me, as I read your book "And Then I Danced," you became friends with him. He learned from you.

Segal: Yeah, and I learned from him. He was one of the most generous men that I've ever met. I was walking down a hall one day, a Democratic Convention, a couple years after the zap, and he recognized me, which is amazing to me, and he came up and said, "Mark, how you doing?" And that sparked our friendship, and he gave me his card and said, "Next time you're in New York, give me a call," and I did. We had lunch.

Lisnek: It also taught him that gay and lesbian issues had to be on television. They had to be covered.

Segal: Yeah. After our trial -- when we did the trial after my disruption, he asked why I did it, and I told him because there was no news on his network. [00:03:09.14] It was biased about the LGBT community, and he took umbrage to that, and I showed him several areas where he touched other areas but not ours, and he turned around, walked back into the courtroom, didn't say anything. A week later he appeared on the "CBS Evening News" after the first commercial break holding a pointer and pointing out cities that had passed gay rights legislation.

Lisnek: Wow. When I just think of, well, there's -- obviously -- I just want to briefly mention because I think back to, you know, folks we've seen on television, but Mike Douglas, one of the classic sort of in the Johnny Carson era, all of that, and you got to meet him, too.

Segal: Yep, I -- Lisnek: What happened?

Segal: Uh, I sat in the audience, and as he was in his first segment, I got out of the audience and handcuffed myself to the camera, and I asked why this media won't have people like my generation on camera. The producer came up to me and said, If you'll keep quiet, we'll do something about this," and Reverend Troy Perry a few weeks later was asked to do the show. Reverend Troy Perry was the founder of a gay Christian sect called Metropolitan Community Churches.

Lisnek: So this is how you've done so much. In fact, I know -- I think it was in Philadelphia, your hometown -- but when -- when -a rights ordinance was sort of passed, it didn't include sheriffs, uh, you know, police officers and stuff, so you then signed up to become a deputy, right, or a state trooper, kind of a thing. There is a -- There's an MO to what you do. "If you tell me 'no,' I will make it 'yes.'"

Segal: Basically, but that one was not my idea. I got to give credit to where it belongs.

Lisnek: Okay.

Segal: So, the governor of Pennsylvania signed an executive order -- first one in the nation -- which said that state government and its employees could not discriminate against gay men and lesbian women. That's what it said at the time. That was 1975 -- first one in the nation. His police commissioner barged into his office and banged on his desk, says "I will not have homosexuals as state troopers!" Um, about six hours later, I got a call from the lieutenant governor saying, "The governor would like you tomorrow to go and sign up to become a state trooper," and I showed up, and there was the full press corps.

Lisnek: So, here we are today. We're in an interesting political time, so, having said that, where do LGBTQ rights stand today? Do you look -- I mean, more improvement, you're good with it -- where do we stand in today's environment?

Segal: Oh, we have lots of work to do. So, thanks to the Supreme Court, you can get married, and then when you go on your honeymoon, you can be denied a hotel room in many states.

Lisnek: Fired when you get back to work. Segal: Because you're gay. And then fired because you're gay. So, we need to get the Equality Act passed. It's the piece of legislation in Congress right now, will probably be passed shortly. Then it goes to the Senate. That needs to be done. Lisnek: Does it happen the way you did it? In whatever the modern version is today -- "Will and Grace" -- Will and Jack kissing on television -- is this the day where, yes, chain yourself to something. Yes, show up on the newscast, or are things different today?

Segal: No, you're absolutely right. We need more creativity. Today, all people do is write on Twitter or write on Facebook or do a mass mailing. No. It's time to get back to creative activism. We need to, if need be, chain ourselves to the doors of the Senate if they refuse to bring it to the door. We need to have sit-ins. We need to do what other movements have done in the past. We need to become visible and show our faces.

Lisnek: Does it all start with people simply being proud of who they are, being proud, being out, run for office, make change that way?

Segal: Yes. I mean, I know executives who think that -- that are LGBT -- who just think that I'm just fine sitting here right now. I don't have to do anything. I have my six-figure job, and that's the end of it. Um, I'd like to see some of those people get down and start fighting for our community.

Lisnek: Congratulations on what has been a long and continuing incredible career. I think you're one of the most decorated journalists that there have been with all the awards. You do great work. Thank you. Mark Segal from the Philadelphia Gay News. I appreciate your time, and thank you for joining us, as well. If you want to watch more great conversations with leaders in your community and across this country, just go to I'm Paul Lisnek. Bye-bye.

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