by Mark Segal
(Mark Segal is the founder and publisher of Philadelphia Gay News. He is also the author of the memoir, “And Then I Danced: Traveling the Road to LGBT Equality.” The following column originally appeared in the March 24, 2023, issue of PGN and is reprinted here with permission.)
This week’s PGN front-page story was different then our usual and it’s also a great example of the old adage “It Takes a Village.” From a small idea to the finished cover, it took scores of people to pull off and do so without it leaking out. Who said drag queens and political candidates can’t keep a secret?
Several weeks ago, PGN editor Jason Villemez and I joined our friends Klayton and Val Fennel to a drag brunch to support the drag community, which is under fire across the country. In the car on the way home, I uttered, “We need to do more.” My next line was, “Hmm, there’s an election coming up.”
That began the process. Once Jason and I began to dream what it could look like and how to make it a statement, it became obvious and there was only one answer: Mayoral Candidates and Drag Queens.
Nothing like this has ever been done before in any other major city in America. We knew that Philadelphia was, as they say, gritty, and Philly citizens really live by our slogan, the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection. After all, we do host the world’s largest and oldest drag parade in the nation, The Mummers. We in Philly get it.
So, we got two drag community leaders to organize the drag performers, began to chat with the candidates directly, briefed our staff reporter who is covering the mayor’s race, assigned the photographer, alerted the graphic department to prepare a layout, and worked with the city department that handles renting out space in City Hall.
Watching all this taking shape was magic. All drag queens arrived on time and all the candidates arrived at their scheduled time.
So what was I thinking as the next mayor of this city was in that photo shoot?
For several years now there has been a war against the LGBT community in many forms. Among them are the murder and violence against our trans community, “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, book bannings, and preventing trans people from accessing healthcare, just to name a few. And they all have one thing at their root: they are attempting to erase our visibility and put us back in the closet.
Now the war against LGBT people involves restricting our view in public. This fight against drag performers, and specifically drag queen story hour, is a pivotal point in this fight. The reason is obvious. Since our campaign for equality has been so successful with “normalizing” lesbian and gay men, the conservative right needs a new group to attack. So they attack those with less visibility, especially trans people and, yes, drag queens.
Every LGBT newspaper asks candidates what they support in the LGBT community. PGN took it a step further. We said if you support drag performers, demonstrate that support. If you support drag queen story hour, show it. We did similar in 2008 when we saw a candidate running for office stating he supported LGBT rights; we asked him to sit for an interview to demonstrate and explain that support. His name was Barack Obama, and he did the interview.
As I watched every major mayoral candidate take their turn with the drag performers, it gave me chills. It showed how far our community has come and how city officials want to embrace and protect us, its citizens. This couldn’t happen in almost any other city in America. But it happens in Philly, and I’m damn proud of it.