Mark Segal is the nation’s most award-winning commentator in LGBT media. He was part of the infamous Stonewall demonstrations in 1969 and founded the Philadelphia Gay News in 1975.
He was arrested countless times, chained himself to the Liberty Bell and “nickel rided” by the police, but nothing ever stopped Mark Segal from fighting for gay rights.
A “nickel ride” refers to police officers throwing suspects in the back of a police car without restraints. The suspects are thrown around and possibly injured by the police recklessly driving.
On April 6, Segal spoke at Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Center City about his book, And Then I Danced, Traveling The Road To LGBT Equality.
“Someone had to do it. It had to be done,” he said, referring to his activism.
Segal is the nation’s most award-winning commentator in LGBT media. He was part of the infamous Stonewall demonstrations in 1969 and founded the Philadelphia Gay News in 1975.
Segal, 65, grew up in a downtrodden section of South Philly near the 25th Street Railway Bridge. Although his family was financially strapped, his parents, Marty and Shirley, always supported him.
As a child, he was surrounded by Italians and Germans and was often taunted because of his religion. But his dad taught him to be modest and strong, which helped him throughout life.
His other ally was his grandmother, Patty Weinstein, who took him to his first civil rights protest at City Hall.
Later that year, his family moved to Mount Airy. It was around then that he realized he was gay. However, telling anyone was out of the question.
“When you’re gay in the 1960s, you keep it to yourself,” he said. “When gay people my age were growing up, we were deeply in the closet.”
Gays were immoral to religious establishments and illegal to the police. Doctors thought they were crazy and companies wouldn’t hire them, Segal said.
Looking to find other people like him, he relocated to New York City in 1969 at the age of 18. The place to be at that time for gay people was Christopher Street in Greenwich Village.
Segal experienced his first police raid at a bar called the Stonewall. He witnessed police brutality and saw things he had never seen before. Luckily, he was unharmed and allowed to leave.
Marty Robinson, a member of the Gay Activists Alliance, came to him and other people with chalk saying to write up and down the street “Stonewall Tomorrow Night.”
This spawned the Stonewall riots that lasted four days.
“From the actions of Stonewall came the gay liberation front,” Segal said.
The goal of the organization was to define themselves rather than let society define them. It started the first gay community center in New York City and held what eventually became the Gay Pride Parade.
In 1973, he returned to Philly because his mother was ill. But his passion for gay rights came with him.
“I brought back with me that fervor and radicalization that I learned on the gay liberation front,” he said.
According to Segal, one of the biggest reasons gay people were censored and not recognized was lack of education. Segal knew he had to change perceptions.
He began to get noticed by sneaking his way onto nationally televised TV shows like The Mike Douglas Show, The Tonight Show and Today. As he was getting kicked off of Today, Barbara Walters interviewed him.
“I would do anything that was necessary and it worked,” he said. “Getting arrested was mundane to me.”
His crowning moment came in 1973 when he pulled off his biggest trick yet. At that time, there were no blogs, Internet or millions of channels on TV; the only thing that really mattered was Walter Cronkite and the CBS Evening News.
During a segment on national security, Segal slipped past the CBS security and appeared live on the news promoting gay rights. He was charged with trespassing, among other charges. CBS went black for seven minutes, and he became the first person to appear openly gay on TV.
When he went to trial, Cronkite asked why he did it. He explained the media did not cover gay rights activism. After listening to what Segal had to say, Cronkite was called to the stand, where his testimony shocked everyone. He said Segal was an invited guest.
The two became lifelong friends, and Segal called him whenever he had a question.
Because of Segal’s actions, not only were gay rights gaining attention, but so was Pennsylvania. It eventually became the first state to adopt LGBT legislation.
And in 1975, Pennsylvania became the first U.S. state in which an executive order was issued providing for discrimination protection in state employment on the basis of sexual orientation.
While never linking homosexuality and Judaism, being Jewish was part of his identity.
Jerry Silverman of Center City, who has been a member of the Gay Activists Alliance since 1975, attended Segal’s speech.
Silverman who helped start Philadelphia’s only gay shul, Congregation Beth Ahavah 40 years ago, is proud the synagogue merged with Rodeph Shalom a few months ago.
“The goal was always to have a place where we can be like everybody else,” Silverman said.
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