GUEST COMMENTARY: Breaking barriers with excellence

by Mark Segal
Mark Segal, publisher of Philadelphia Gay News, is the nation’s most-award-winning commentator in LGBT media. This column originally appeared in PGN.
“General excellence.” Upon hearing we’d won this category, my thoughts were, “Just another award.” Now that might sound jaded, but these days that seems to be the road we’re on, and I should have done my homework.
I soon discovered that the award I was about to accept on behalf of the entire PGN team is one of the highest honors a newspaper could be awarded by the 2,300 newspaper members of the National Newspaper Association.
Mark Segal
But another thought came to mind at that emotional moment: My friends who, like me, were among the first as out people to attend mainstream professional organizational meetings and conventions. On many occasions, these were the first LGBT people some non-LGBT people ever met, and thus were their first impression of our community. My thoughts went to Ann Butchart and Dan Anders, who attended organizations for judges; Leon King, who attended law-enforcement conferences as the first out Black commissioner of corrections in America; and my friend Klay, who walked into meetings of the cable and broadcast organizations.
This year, we were awarded many honors from the National Newspaper Association. That’s an organization of some 2,300 daily and weekly newspapers around the country, and we felt honor-bound to attend. So, when no one in the office wanted to go, I decided to be the designated attendee.
This is something I’ve gotten used to over the years: being among the first LGBT newspapers to win major journalism awards, or being the first LGBT newspaper applying for membership, or attending meetings of mainstream journalism or professional organizations.
One journalism organization refused our membership for 15 years. So the reaction of some of the members of these organizations amazes me. This year, I sat with member newspapers from Mississippi and Texas. Their questions were, shall we say, enlightening. But it’s an education for both sides. And it seems we always leave with a new appreciation for the other.
At the awards ceremony, many of the other newspapers were surprised to witness one of the LGBT newspapers taking top honors. And that was all I expected, but then a surprise: The last three awards were labeled “General Excellence” and I assumed they were just like any other award — but then the presenters read the criteria: “General excellence, among all dailies and non-dailies, of all circulations, across the nation.” Of the 2,300 member newspapers, we were one of only three to be awarded this prestigious honor. The significance of that moment had me in an emotional state. Then I thought, If only I would have done my homework, I would have been prepared for such a high honor. 
This is breaking barriers — not just for PGN and our staff that earned this honor, but for all LGBT media. Our community should take pride as well, since one of its own was judged by professional peers to be one of the best in the nation. The community’s support through the years is why we have reached that pinnacle.
For a moment, my mind wandered to our beginning years and the hardships, the death threats, the destruction of our offices and even being put on the Thunderbolt Newspaper hit list (that was the newspaper of the KKK and white supremacists). Thanks to all the staff through the years that endured. That, I hope, is a message to anyone who wonders, What can I do?
Imagine, dream and never give up or in.

Volume 20
Issue 8

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October 19, 2018