Every day of Pride Month, Mashable will be sharing illuminating conversations with members of the LGBTQ community who are making history right now.
Before there was national LGBTQ media, there was Mark Segal.
Segal founded the Philadelphia Gay News — believed to be one of the earliest of its kind, an LGBTQ weekly paper — in 1976, long before most people even knew any out gay people, let alone cared about LGBTQ media. The Stonewall riots, which launched the gay rights movement, had happened just six years prior. Segal created the publication with the hopes of improving communication both within the LGBTQ community and outside of it.
Over time, Segal’s paper grew in prominence and importance. Segal believed in practicing real, serious journalism, covering communities traditionally ignored by the mainstream media. Hillary Clinton penned an op-ed in the publication as recently as 2016, marking the first time a major presidential candidate had written an op-ed for an LGBTQ newspaper. Philadelphia Gay News continues to exist today, providing value at a time when LGBTQ media can sometimes feel like it’s in a state of decline.
Segal did more than just found a weekly. He was at the Stonewall riots. He was a known LGBTQ activist as early as 1972, when he was thrown out of a televised dance competition for dancing with a male partner. After that show, Segal started to crash the sets of other televised programs, or “zap” them, as he called it. In 1973, Segal actually jumped in front of Walter Cronkite, the legendary news anchor, with a sign that read “Gays Protest CBS Prejudice.”
Later, Cronkite arranged for Segal to meet with top CBS management and discuss ways they could improve their gay coverage. One year later, Cronkite produced a whole segment on gay rights.
Segal founded both the National Gay Press Association and the National Gay Newspaper Guild, which serve LGBTQ journalists and LGBTQ newspapers, and has been inducted into the National Lesbian & Gay Journalist’s Association Hall of Fame.
Mashable caught up with the media pioneer to talk about his record of achievement and his faith in the future.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Mashable: Tell me about your history as an activist. What are some of the moments you’ve been the most proud of?
Mark Segal: The obvious answer is being a participant at Stonewall, but for me that was the beginning of my life as a “Gay Activist.” At that time that word didn’t exist, or a salary to go with it. You did it out of passion. While many would like to make [Stonewall] my legacy, personally, my campaign against media to end LGBT invisibility is high on the list. I believe that has been a theme in my life.
I was among those who founded Gay Liberation Front from the ashes of Stonewall [Editor’s Note: The Gay Liberation Front was formed as a gay activist group that organized marches, formed consciousness-raising groups, and published a newspaper following the Stonewall Riots]. I created a Gay Youth committee to handle issues facing LGBT youth, including a 24 hour hotline, in 1970.
Now, I’m concerned with LGBT seniors. Our first out generation, many of them cannot find affordable housing in the communities they built.
Mashable: What issues concern you most as an LGBTQ activist? How has the political climate impacted LGBTQ activism?
MS: Andy Warhol said that everybody would be famous for 15 minutes. Social media has made that 15 tweets, or likes. With the Trump administration trying to roll back any gains our community has made, especially with trans issues, it’s time to not simply shout. We need to act.
And like we did at Stonewall and what ACT UP did for AIDS [Editor’s note: ACT UP was an organization formed in response to the AIDS crisis that put pressure on the medical community and government to respond], we need to do again. We need to become creative with our response to bigots, bullies, and blowhards. We should be united with other communities. This battle is not just about LGBT people, it’s about race, it’s about women’s rights, immigration rights. Social justice is not limited to one cause.
Mashable: How did Stonewall impact you personally?
MS: It taught me to fight back and end invisibility for our community — lessons which I believe have made Philadelphia Gay News award-winning LGBT media. We believe in strong hard-hitting news and commentary.
Mashable: Since this is the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, how have you seen LGBTQ media grow, decline, and grow again?
MS: Up until 1967 there was little in the way of LGBT media, mostly newsletters of the small “homosexual rights” organizations. Then, in 1967, a raid on a gay bar called the Black Cat in L.A. led to the founding of The Advocate, the first major national LGBT news publication [Editor’s note: Activists founded The Advocate after the raid inspired a groundswell of organizing]. The majority of LGBT media was born out of local activism.
It is now my hope that LGBT journalism becomes more local, local, local…. you can get national news and information from thousands of sites on the Web. We need to do original stories that we own and cannot be found elsewhere.
Mashable: Tell me about all the projects you’re currently working on.
MS: For an old man, too many.
Mashable: What are your hopes for yourself as an activist and thinker?
MS: To help my community learn that they must think big, have a big vision, and not be afraid to get into people’s faces to make it happen. That’s the spirit of Stonewall.
Read more great Pride Month stories: