by Mark Segal
Mark Segal, publisher of Philadelphia Gay News, is the nation’s most award-winning commentator in LGBT media. His best selling memoir “And Then I Danced, Traveling the Road to Equality'” is available at amazon.com, Barnes and Noble.com or your favorite bookstore. This column can also be found at http://www.epgn.com/opinion/mark-my-words/10125-sentimental-times.
In less than a month, Philadelphia Gay News will celebrate its 40th anniversary. That’s really something when you consider there are only two other LGBT publications in the nation that can make a similar statement.
But even more amazing is that we have never missed an issue or a deadline, and we’ve had the same leadership since day one. So, since that leader was me, I’ve been thinking about those 40 years a lot lately.
The beginning was not easy. We had death threats. People came into our office and destroyed it one evening by ripping out all the electrical wiring and what pipes there were. Our vending boxes were bombed, set on fire and had cars driven into them, yet we had that paper on the streets each and every issue, year in and year out.
The PGN you look at today is the nation’s most awarded of all LGBT media. You might wonder how we got to this point from our meager beginnings.
We knew from our very start that our mission was to inform our community and to give people who had different views a place to have dialogue with each other. We also knew that we were going to be a hard-news publication, not a “happy” newspaper, or newspaper lite.
Our very first issue featured an interview with the highest-appointed out official in the nation, and the second with Pennsylvania Gov. Milton Shapp. That interview was the first time any governor anywhere in the United States was interviewed by LGBT media. Our political reporting is only one of many ways that PGN differed from other LGBT media. Our coverage of trans issues goes back to our earliest days. Youth issues were always on our agenda. And then there was AIDS.
For many older LGBT people, the 1980s will always be associated with HIV/AIDS. For us on the front lines, it was sheer hell. For those at PGN who were warring about loved ones and friends, we had the double duty of reporting on the epidemic and trying to bring sense and calmness to a calamity. That was difficult when PGN discovered a police station in West Philadelphia that was keeping a list of people it knew had AIDS and then giving them “special treatment.” Despite threats, we ran that story, and the community got an apology from the city, and the list was destroyed.
The community sometimes wondered why we continued to report on a story. That was never more true than with the case of Nizah Morris, the trans woman who ended up dead after a courtesy ride from police. To us at PGN, she has become a family member and represents what many trans people endure each and every day. Our more than 13 years of reporting and investigating that case has led us to court on many occasions, as we attempt to get records that have appeared and disappeared. No other LGBT media outlet has put the resources into a story for as long as PGN has — and we will continue to do so.
That investigation led PGN to win a national award for investigative reporting, which put us in the same category as the Wall Street Journal. And just this week, once again we were informed that we had won seven journalistic awards from the Local Media Association.
Thank you to a staff that has continued to live up to our motto, and thank you to our faithful readers who might not always agree with us, but who have continued supporting us. We promise you that we’ll continue to make you proud of this publication, week after week.