LGBT History Month: Stonewall Pioneer reflects on the legacy he hopes to leave behind

"This is by far the most LGBT-friendly city in America," Mark Segal said of Philadelphia.

TaRhonda Thomas Image
Tuesday, October 25, 2022
Stonewall Pioneer reflects on the legacy he hopes to leave behind
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Stonewall Pioneer reflects on the legacy he hopes to leave behind

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- If there's a notable event in Philadelphia's LGBTQ+ community, Mark Segal is there.

"Today we're celebrating my good friend Jeff Guaracino," he said after stepping off a stage set up at 13th and Chestnut in Philadelphia's iconic Gayborhood.

On that day, he was part of a group celebrating a street renaming. But he also took the time that day to recall the opposite of a celebration on one very pivotal day: Stonewall.

The infamous raid of the gay bar in New York City happened on June 8, 1969, and was what many identify as the beginning of the biggest public push for gay rights. Segal was inside the bar when police attacked patrons.

"That night they burst through the doors... they slammed people up against the wall," he said. "My impression was 'OK call the police.' And then I realized this is the police who are doing this."

An 18-year-old who had just moved to New York City, Segal was about to realize his purpose.

"The reality came to me that everybody else is fighting for their rights in society. What about us? Look at how we were just treated," he said, "Am I going to put up with that for the rest of my life? When am I going to take a stand?"

It's Segal's handwriting we see in the famous photos.

"I'm the person who got to write on the streets and walls "Tomorrow night Stonewall," he said.

What started at Stonewall became a fight for LGBT rights that evolved from one moment to a movement, and Segal played a pivotal role.

"I remember being handcuffed to a heating pipe in the police station," he said, "and that was my first arrest ever."

Segal then became a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front.

"We created the first gay community center and at the end of that first year, we created the first Gay Pride," he said.

He also worked to meet the needs of the community, which he talked about while giving a tour of the John C. Anderson Apartments.

"It is the first federally officially named LGBT-friendly senior affordable building in the nation," he said of the building in the 200 block of South 13th Street.

For all those accomplishments, there's really one thing Segal wants as his legacy.

"I'd like to hear (people say) there's someone who helped contribute to ending invisibility in the LGBT community because that's what I stood for," he said.

Segal was the long-haired young man who disrupted the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite and several other national broadcasts- running on sets while shouting his message demanding visibility for LGBT people.

"We were invisible from the TV, radio and newspapers," he said. "Totally invisible."

Now Segal controls some of the media narrative as founder and publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News.

"This is by far the most LGBT-friendly city in America," he said of Philadelphia.

One example is the renaming of a street in honor of a leader in the local LGBT community: Jeff Guaracino, the former CEO of Visit Philadelphia who came up with the country's first tourism marketing campaign aimed at the LGBTQ+ community.

The street renaming is one of the big events that Mark Segal often gets invited to, but it's also the type of event he never could have imagined decades ago.

"Any of us who were there in 1969 could never dream that we would close off a street (for a celebration) and name that street after an LGBT person."

From the days when protesting for gay rights got him a $100 fine to being invited to the White House with his husband, Mark Segal has experienced it all.

Ever the activist, he's still not done.

"I lived to see things happen that I never thought would happen, and they happen every day," he said, "and they're still happening."