Mark Segal, the longest-running publisher of a U.S.-based LGBT publication, the Philadelphia Gay News (PGN), said it was a comment on TV that caught his attention, drew his ire, and birthed the idea for a collaborative news project.
“I was watching a TV show 15 years ago and there was a panel discussion on gay rights,” Segal said. “And a Republican on the panel said this country was not founded for ‘you people,’ meaning gay people. I took that as a challenge.”
The challenge manifested itself into a “Gay History is American history” project that brought together dozens of LGBT media outlets across the country, including SFGN, to publish features on gay historical figures and icons. Some of the figures are well known and others are not, but all have had a profound impact on society and the gay rights movement.
The collaboration was designed to coincide with LGBT History Month, an observance each October to recognize queer history and the history of the LGBT rights and related civil rights movements. It first began in 1994 and coincides with National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11.
Segal said the project is important because even the LGBT community itself hasn’t always been aware of its own history – partially because some historians have tried to censor it.
The first feature was “We Are America,” profiling a diverse group of people who would likely identify as part of the LGBT community, Segal said. That issue included women who lived their lives as men and joined the Revolutionary War and men who otherwise lived their lives as women but served in the U.S. Armed Forces.
Subjects that have been explored since include the intersection between the Black Panthers and the gay rights movement and the sexuality of Addison Mizner, the father of South Florida’s signature Spanish revival architecture. SFGN was the first publication to write about Mizner likely being gay.
“We discovered Baron von Steuben, who to this day fascinates me, and I continue to research him,” Segal said.
Von Steuben was a gay man who was chief of staff to U.S. President George Washington at Valley Forge, Segal said.
“We’ve discovered so much information that there is no credible historian who would deny it now,” he said. “We’ve pressed it so far that the Museum of the American Revolution states under his portrait that most historians believe he was a member of the gay community.”
Abraham Lincoln, the 16th U.S. president, is perhaps one of the most well-known historical figures that many think was gay.
“We’ve published information [about Lincoln] that mainstream historians wouldn’t publish,” Segal said. “I’m not willing to say he’s gay, I don’t doubt he loved his wife, but he did sleep with men.”
Segal said, for example, that historians have long argued that one of the reasons Lincoln slept in the same bed as his friend Joshua Speed is that there was only one bedroom and one bed at the residence. But Segal said he and his team have discovered that there were actually two bedrooms and two beds – facts that aren’t in Lincoln’s original biography.
“What’s great about this is it’s a collaboration of LGBTQ media. We wouldn’t be doing this if it were not for our partners like the Bay Area Reporter, the Dallas Voice, SFGN and others. We’ve all coordinated and contributed for 15 years.”
A few of the topics expected to be published this year, according to PGN editor Jason Villemez, include a profile on a gay World War II hero from the Netherlands who blew up an identity center in order to help Jews escape. He was eventually executed by the Nazis and was never recognized for what he did. Another profile is of Pauli Murray, a social and political activist and lesbian, who shaped the life of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Other content on tap includes a feature on Glenn Burke, the first openly gay Major League Baseball player.