Mark Segal sure likes his adjectives. Last Friday the Philadelphia Gay News publisher wrote a column in which he called Philly Mag “racist,” “sexist” and “homophobic” for a piece we ran in our January issue about the increasing prominence of gay people in Philadelphia’s establishment–most notably, within the once-stuffy walls of the Union League. (To his credit, Segal avoided mentioning “rich people,” “the Main Line,” and “cosmetic surgery ads”–the usual outdated gripes critics hurl our way. Well done, Mark!) Anyway, Segal seemed particularly put off by a sidebar that ran with the story entitled “Rainbow Coalition: Who’s who in the city’s A-Gay universe,” which he complained was made up almost exclusively of white men.
Let me address the merits of what he wrote first. Was the sidebar heavily tilted toward white men? Yes, it was. (Among the white men mentioned was … Mark Segal!) Does that mean we don’t see any prominent lesbians in Philadelphia? Or prominent gay African Americans? Or prominent transgendered people? Hardly. Because the point of the sidebar wasn’t to list every single person of note in Philadelphia’s LGBT community; it was merely to flesh out the main story, which focused on a particular slice of the LGBT community. Criticizing it for who it didn’t include feels a little like criticizing a piece on the Flyers because it didn’t mention any Phillies.
What Segal didn’t say out loud, of course, is that lately he seems to feel threatened by Philly Mag. I’ve never met Segal—I’m not even sure I’ve ever been in the same room with him—but I suspect this is connected to two things. The first is a story our senior writer Steve Volk wrote about Segal and Malcolm Lazin in October 2011, which Segal apparently didn’t like. The second is GPhilly, the LGBT publication that Philly Mag launched a couple of years ago.
Now, let me say for the record that we have never considered PGN to be competition for GPhilly. On the contrary, we launched it because we saw that the LGBT community in Philadelphia was large enough and vibrant enough that it could support not just a weekly gay newspaper, but also a gay quarterly lifestyle magazine (and given the enormously positive reaction we’ve gotten to GPhilly, we’ve been proven absolutely right in that). Segal, however, seems to perceive any other LGBT media voice in town as a challenge to his own. And so he flails away, trying to make the bizarre case that a magazine that’s written extensively about gay issues in the last couple of years—and that publishes a magazine geared to the LGBT community—is somehow “homophobic.” Worse, he flat-out says that any gay person who works for Philly Mag is somehow disloyal to the cause. Because apparently Mark Segal and Mark Segal alone will decide what’s right for the LGBT community.
I find this incredibly sad. Not to mention ironic. Because over the course of his lifetime, Mark Segal has been a hero. Forty years ago, when gay and transgendered people were oppressed, ostracized, humiliated and denied their full rights as citizens and human beings, Segal fought back courageously and helped bring about meaningful change. It’s one of the reasons that in our next issue, we’re running a Q&A with him on our back page, which generally features iconic Philadelphians.
Full disclosure: Over the weekend–after Segal emailed me a link to his column, along with a note saying he’d been “surprisingly overwhelmed by positive response to it”–I shot back my own snarky, sharp-elbowed response, which said: “Thanks for sharing, Mark. Nice to see you growing old and irrelevant with such grace.”
I regret that now. It was small and written in the heat of the moment. What I wish I said was what I truly feel: Why are you picking fights with phantom enemies, Mark, at a time in your life when you should be taking a bow?