At the end of my father’s life we’d get together and, when we did, Dad would always say, “So, what was your day like?” or “What have you been doing?” At such times, I’d shrug and say, “Just the same.”
The reality was that my life at that point was full of excitement and efforts to make new gains for our community, but I thought that talking about such work might look like bragging so I didn’t. But that was a big mistake, since my father read about my activities in mainstream newspapers and saw some on TV. I found out later that he’d ask my relatives why I wouldn’t share my pride of accomplishment with him. He wanted bragging rights. In his last few months, he never missed an opportunity to tell me how proud I made him. So since Dad is not here, let me share with you some pride, and you can share in it, like I know he would.
Last week was a time when I finally began to realize how far this community has come, through a series of events that individually are amazing — but putting them together is a new benchmark.
It started last Thursday evening when the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association presented me its highest honor, the Ben Franklin Award for Excellence, at its 93rd-annual convention. This organization represents all newspapers in the state, including dailies and weeklies. The significance of that came as our former editor, Sarah Blazucki, was brought in from D.C. as a surprise to do the introduction. She reminded me, and those publishers sitting in that room, of how PGN had survived the bombing of our vending boxes, the trashing of our offices and even being put on the KKK’s hit list; I had forgotten that last one. Then I took the stage to deliver my speech, which I prepared as a tribute to the power of newspapers. As I read it now, I understand why many people told me afterwards that it was inspirational. (I’ll post the speech on my Facebook page: www.facebook.com/MarkSegalPGN.)
Here’s the main point I made: That same organization that was giving me its highest award wouldn’t allow me to join for almost 10 years because I was a gay man. And there I was, receiving its highest award … That says where we as a community have come from, and also is a nod to LGBT media that “You’re one of us.”
The following morning at the same convention, the PGN staff gathered for the Newspaper of the Year Awards. The honors are awarded by division and circulation, so PGN was competing with almost every weekly in the state. Many are small-town newspapers, other are big-city weeklies. Time and time again, when they announced the awards, the staff of PGN had to stand; we won six divisional awards in total. Then the biggest award.
PNA awards one daily and one weekly as the Newspaper of the Year. The daily award went to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and the weekly, Philadelphia Gay News.
Our editor, Jen Colletta, went to the stage to accept. The pride and chills I had, I’ll never be able to express. But what I knew is that LGBT media and PGN had set a new bar.
My thoughts went back to my days when I started this newspaper and was shunned. All I can say to those people is that we not only climbed the ladder, we’re at the very top. I say that not for myself, but as I said when I accepted the Ben Franklin Award, I say it for all those LGBT youth who wonder if they can enter journalism or media management and make it as an out person.
We at PGN are proof you can, and we dedicate these awards to you as encouragement to follow your dreams.