Mark My Words

Mark Segal, PGN publisher, is the nation’s most-award-winning commentator in LGBT media. You can follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MarkSegalPGN or Twitter at https://twitter.com/PhilaGayNews.


This week, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney won a major court case that will most likely make its way to the Supreme Court and affects our community more than the super-hyped wedding-cake case. And guess what? Almost no one noticed the significance of this major turn of events, but with much higher stakes, not only for u, but especially for religious organizations. Why does it loom large, with billions of dollars in tax dollars? Yes, we’ve reached a new stage of our struggle, where discrimination against LGBT people could cost billions — that’s billions, with a B — of dollars to those who discriminate, or it could legalize discrimination.

Here’s the skinny on the facts: Catholic Social Services had a contract with Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services to aid in placing foster youth. The Catholic group refused to consider a gay couple for fostering, turning them away simply for their sexuality. They claim that same old line as the wedding-cake case, “religion,” but here’s the problem: They take public funds. Translation: Your tax dollars were used to discriminate. The wedding-cake shop was a personal business, not a nonprofit taking public funds. And this case, if it makes its way to the Supreme Court, will shine a light on the use of the Catholic Church’s nonprofit status and your tax dollars, and what those dollars are used for.

And that, my friends, is a case the Church and its friends should be afraid of, since many of your tax dollars go to places that would shock most taxpayers. And it might answer the question of how the Church is paying for its legal representation in all those child sexual-abuse cases. Or how public funds are diverted for conversion therapy, discrimination and, more importantly, paying for employees at a community center or other nonprofit rather than having that employee really working for a religious organization or maybe spending some of that time on taxpayers’ money doing religious work. They opened the door; let’s walk through it.  

Here’s a sample of the research I did: The Washington Times reported in September 2015 that “the Church and related Catholic charities and schools have collected more than $1.6 billion since 2012 in U.S. contracts and grants.” That’s just until 2012. So let’s see if we can get a little deeper.

Charity Navigator had a host of Catholic organizations listed, but guess what? Most of the funding information was missing. They explained it as follows: “Why isn’t this organization rated? Portions of a Charity Navigator’s evaluation are based on information published in IRS Form 990. The IRS does not require this organization to publish a Form 990.”

But what the organization did list was its mission statement. “Stated Mission of Catholic Charities: To provide service to people in need, to advocate for justice in social structures, and to call the entire Church and other people of good will to do the same.”

So, I guess that means LGBT people who wanted to be foster parents aren’t “people of good will”?

Another charity watchdog, GuideStar, lists an area Catholic charity with $8 million in publicly traded stock and blacked out where those funds came from. Are your tax dollars being used on the New York Stock Exchange to benefit a religious organization that might send children to torture through conversion therapy?

Back to that Washington Times report. “Catholic Charities USA, the largest charitable organization run by the Church, receives about 65 percent of its annual budget from state and federal governments, making it an arm of the federal welfare state,” said Brian Anderson, a researcher with the Manhattan Institute in the article. Add federal, state and city government funding like the one now before the courts. Again we are at welfare to the Church of over a billion dollars of your tax dollars … and how it is used? Against the laws of the government that is granting those funds?

It’s anyone’s guess how the case would be ruled on by the Supreme Court, with its newest nominee being a devout Catholic, with a capital D for devout. But here’s the same case I’ve been making since 1974: The LGBT community needs to make the Equality Act, which has been before Congress since 1974 and never passed, our number-one goal since religious charities might be considered a protected class and above government law, and we are not a protected case like race, religion, sex or national origin without that Equality Act.

So all of you who want to take action, now is the time, and peaceful demonstrations and civil disobedience are needed against those in Congress who won’t support the Equality Act. You don’t have to go to Washington, D.C. You can call out your Congress members at their home office in your city or state. Another course is that as long as these charities continue to discriminate, investigate them as I have and publicize your findings, or ask your local newspaper to do so. We are not helpless in this, we just need to be organized and have the will to resist oppression with our own funds.

And as for Mayor Jim Kenney, he’s a proud Irish Catholic who went to Catholic schools.

Mark Segal, PGN publisher, is the nation’s most-award-winning commentator in LGBT media. You can follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MarkSegalPGN or Twitter at https://twitter.com/PhilaGayNews.

Readers here know my passion for LGBT history and my almost-decade-long research and writing on my favorite gay historical character — and I do believe he was a character. He is Baron Friedrich von Steuben. And there’s a longer version of his name, but that will do.

We at PGN grieve the murder of five journalists in Annapolis last week. And we applaud the determination of the staff of the Capital Gazette to carry on and continue what good journalism is: to print the news and community information so that citizens can be informed, regardless of the harm that may occur.

As we go to press, I’m preparing to travel for my last of four speaking gigs this June, all for Pride month. There are various reasons why groups ask me to speak during Pride month. Some are familiar with my column or writings; others want me to speak about publishing in the LGBT community; still others, a point of LGBT history I’ve been personally involved with. But I’m sure that very few know that when they ask me to speak, especially during Pride month, I’m going to speak about organizing that very first Pride, since what most of them don’t know is I was a part of that, and a death this past week just before New York’s Gay Pride made me think a lot about what Pride stands for.

Ah, summertime — the living is easy. We toss our cares to the wind, head for a little R&R and, for many, that great summer vacation. So it should be a time to relax, lay back and enjoy the sunshine.

But wait, we’re five months from an election. Here’s where I can envision you saying, “Mark, why are you bringing this up now?”

Here’s the point: We can’t rest until we do something to put a check on the madness that is Donald Trump, and the harm already done to this country in just 18 months. At this point you’re saying, “Mark can’t this wait till September?”

The answer is no, but there is an out: talk.

Some people think that talk is cheap, especially when you’re talking politics, but in this case it is valuable, and you can even do it on vacation.

Don’t be afraid to talk about the upcoming election. Don’t be afraid to ask the people you come across, “Are you registered to vote?” But even that is not enough. Ask your friends to ask their friends those questions.

There’s a line you’ve heard many times before, and as the Trump administration continues to chip away at not only LGBT rights but those of people of color, immigrants and even Canadians, one has to attempt to find humor in all this. Recall the slogan that should ring in your ears: “They will never have the comfort of our silence again.”

Don’t be afraid to speak up. Resistance — and that word is so appropriate — begins not in September, but now. 

Mark Segal, PGN publisher, is the nation’s most-award-winning commentator in LGBT media. You can follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MarkSegalPGN or Twitter at https://twitter.com/PhilaGayNews.

Recently I had brunch with Judge Dan Anders, who happens to serve as the president of the International Association of LGBT Judges. He tells me they believe that there are likely more than 600 LGBT judges in the United States, and even more incredibly there are OUT judges in every state in the nation, including the most-red states such as Alabama and Mississippi.

The last couple of months have been filled with triumphs like last week’s ceremony at the Smithsonian’s American History Museum in Washington, D.C. (see article on page 1), and the pits: Jason’s mother passing away.

Just saying that I am humbled is not enough: It is an honor of a lifetime.

By the title of this column, I’m not talking about my age, but something that I’m still processing. There have been many honors over the last few years, but this is something that happens to few Americans, and I never expected it to happen to me. My personal papers of the last 50 years will soon be alongside people like Benjamin Franklin, George Washington LGBT pioneer Frank Kameny and even Judy Garland’s ruby-red slippers. It seems strange to say, but I’ve been asked by the Smithsonian for my papers and memorabilia and they are now part of our American history at The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

As you read this, my family and some friends will be in the Presidential Reception Suite in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington D.C. doing what is called a signing ceremony. That’s when I officially sign over my personal papers and personal memories of the last 50 years, including items from Stonewall, that first Gay Pride March, the Gay Liberation Front, LGBT media, gay youth, senior-housing materials and more. This project has been going on for almost two years now, and my friends at the Smithsonian tell me that they now have 17 square cubic feet of my life … how strange to put one’s life into square cubic feet.

During my book tour over the last three years, when I was introduced, many would call me historic, something that seemed to me a little out of place. So when the Smithsonian called, it began a process of me attempting to understand what I had accomplished and the barriers that were placed in the way.

First came the search around the office and home to see what I actually had for the collection. That uncovered pictures, papers and items long-forgotten. Each time the curators at the Smithsonian would smile, and try over and over to explain my place in history, something that I still have trouble contemplating. At one point while I was contemplating this out loud, one of them actually said something like, “You are history and we’re the experts on American history.”

Why the collection was so valuable to LGBT history, I didn’t understand. Most people associate me as a leader in LGBT media and a writer. But that is only a small part of the collection. It also made me realize what the Smithsonian had already understood: While most of my contemporaries had one or two points of our struggle, my involvement in so many of the issues we’ve faced over the last 50 years makes it one of the most complete LGBT history collections. It follows my path from Stonewall to working with Obama’s White House to current battles. And hopefully this collection will give our young leaders the opportunity not only to witness the history, but more importantly, to witness how we took a community that wasn’t a community, built it and struggled to obtain what we have today. A bail receipt from my first arrest in 1970 is part of the collection, as are three items from the vey first Gay Pride March. (We weren’t a parade at that time.)

Writing my memoir, “And Then I Danced: Traveling the Road to LGBT Equality,” gave me a sense of the history I witnessed or created, but when three individuals from the Smithsonian showed up at my front door and explained that America’s history museum wanted my papers, I realized that we fought for pride, for equal rights, for our place in the military and our right to marry the person we love. I am humbled and honored to know the Smithsonian National Museum of American History will preserve and tell our struggle for generations to come.

Mark Segal, PGN publisher, is the nation’s most-award-winning commentator in LGBT media. You can follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MarkSegalPGN or Twitter at https://twitter.com/PhilaGayNews.

You know that old expression, A picture is worth a thousand words? Well, what about, A picture is worth an incredible memory and a slight change in history? 

Here’s something you rarely hear a person say: My last arrest was in 1998, at the behest of the executive director of Philadelphia’s William Way LGBT Community Center, Chris Bartlett. I just discovered a picture of that demonstration and emailed it to Chris.  

Here’s the story: A local TV station was doing what can be called toilet coverage of the LGBT community and Chris wanted to react, so along with a group of young activists, he came up with the idea to toilet- paper their station.

Chris enlisted my help by explaining that they needed someone who was experienced at protests and being arrested. 

At that time, I had just adopted my nephew Jeffrey and was overwhelmed. Chris was relentless and I agreed. 

My nephew, who was in his teens and fresh from living with his mother in Florida, wanted to join. My first parental decision was: Hell, no! But we did allow him to watch from a car.    
The station with all the toilet paper looked great, and then the police arrived, with a yelling news manager. So they took us off to jail.

The police treated us well and by the time we were processed, the station manager was attempting to find a path to make the whole situation just go away.

In court, we were charged with trespassing, disturbing the peace and who knows what else. The station, the judge and everyone wanted to end it, so our lawyer made an agreement that we’d be found guilty and get community service. 

In open court, as this was being worked out between the lawyers and judge, I stood up and said, “I have no problem with being found guilty since we did what you charge, and I’m very proud we did it and want that on my record. Our lawyer seemed bemused by his client, but if you’re going to give us community service, I feel it should include LGBT nonprofits, and if we have done the required hours in the past for our community, that should be counted as well.”

The judge quickly agreed to the sentence, one he had never handed out before.  

Fast-forward to last year during the election season for district attorney in Philadelphia. People kept asking me whether I knew the major candidates. My reply was that I’ve never met any of them, to my knowledge.  

After seeing that long-ago picture, Chris Bartlett wrote me back: “Do you remember that Larry Krasner was our lawyer?” No I didn’t, and he’s the new District Attorney, and now on the list of illustrious lawyers who have gotten me out of civil-disobedience charges; Gloria Allred, Al Gordon and Hal Weiner among them.  

Larry, you’re in good company.

Mark Segal, PGN publisher, is the nation’s most-award-winning commentator in LGBT media. You can follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MarkSegalPGN or Twitter at https://twitter.com/PhilaGayNews.

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