by Mark Segal
Ed. Note: Mark Segal , 62, founder of the Philadelphia Gay News and its editor and publisher for the entire 37 years of its existence, lived in Mt. Airy all of his teenage years (“Good years that I still remember with affection,” he told us). He attended Germantown High School, Phila. Community College and Temple University.
There are three things I’d like to tell you about me. I’m gay, I’m Jewish, and I’m old. That could have been written, “I’m an old gay Jewish guy,” but I wanted to focus on each of those individual words: Jewish, old, gay. They are all a part of me, make me who I am today and have forced me to fight a little each day. And I think you’ll find me to be one of the happiest warriors you’ve ever met.
• Jewish: Believe it or not, there still is something called anti-Semitism in society today, despite the advances. But growing up in the 1950s, I spent my first 10 years on earth in a non-Jewish neighborhood in South Philly before we moved to Mt. Airy. I was the “yid,” the “kike,” the “hey you, you Jew.” I never quite got that, since I already knew what I was. There were the taunts like “your people killed Christ,” which fascinated me. Not even 10 years old and already a murderer. And finally there were the countless fights during recess at Edgar Allen Poe Elementary School. It taught me after a decade that I was different and didn’t belong.
This is hardly a sob story, though. I had my group of friends and a loving, nurturing family, but I knew I was not a part of what was then accepted society. They really didn’t want me or any Jews. I still remember the day my cousin David graduated from law school and my parents telling me about the quota on Jews in law schools. Flash forward to today’s era. You think you’d have any trouble finding a Jewish lawyer?
• Gay: As a teenager it quickly became apparent to me that I sort of liked guys. Looking through the Sears catalog, the women in bras did nothing for me, but the men’s section, oh yea! At that point I was living in a Jewish neighborhood in Mt. Airy and was accepted as a Jew. But I knew I wouldn’t be accepted as gay. Like everyone else of my age who was gay, I hid the fact and counted the days till I graduated from high school and could move to New York, where I could be free … and true to myself.
Inside the walls of Germantown High School, I kept mostly to myself. That worked for me until my last year when we had a history teacher who threatened to fail the entire senior class. I organized a petition drive and believe it really united the students in a raucous 1969. After we claimed victory, I often heard whispers, “Oh, it was that fag.”
I left before graduation in May, 1969, and moved to New York. Living in New York from 1969 to 1971 allowed me to witness history and become part of it. I had a front row seat and sometimes a starring role in some of the biggest issues of the day. When President Obama uttered the word “Stonewall” at his inauguration in January of this year, many decades later, I cried. I knew what I had done was a real part of history. I also knew I’d been around a long, long time.
• Old: Last week, someone called me “old” and thought of it as a bad thing. If that guy had yelled “Jewish!” at me, he would be called anti-Semitic. If he had yelled “Fag!” at me, he would be called homophobic. But call someone old in a detrimental way, and hardly anyone notices. But I do, and I would call him an ageist swine; in 1969 we’d say “pig!” And so are all those who just want to write off older Americans.
When I think of “old,” I think of my grandmother, Fannie Weinstein. She was a suffragette, a woman who fought for the right for women to vote. Fannie also took me to my first civil rights march. We marched around City Hall. I believe it was 1964 and in support of the voting rights act. But mostly I remember a guy named Cecil B. Moore who organized it. He was the first speaker who ever amazed me with his rhetoric.
Grandmom was old to me, but she also was my hero, and she taught me how to appreciate women, people of any color, age and diversity. She gave me the fight I have today.
Remember those three words. They are each me, and I appreciate that. So feel free to call me any one of them, or all three.
Mark Segal, editor of the Philadelphia Gay News, has received honors from the National Newspaper Association, Pennsylvania News Media Association, Suburban Newspapers of America and the Society of Professional Journalists, among others. He can be reached at facebook.com/MarkSegalPGN or on Twitter at twitter.com/PhilaGayNews.