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LGBTQ History, move over NY and California

October is LGBTQ History Month, and I have one question. Which state do you believe contributed more to achieving LGBTQ+ Equality? Here’s a hint: It’s not California. It’s not even New York. 

Make room for Pennsylvania. 

Here’s just a short list of some monumental moments in history:

  • 1965: First sit-in, Dewey’s Restaurant 
  • 1965-1969: First national demonstrations
  • 1972-1973: Campaign against TV networks to end invisibility of our community by disruptions of LIVE TV shows
  • 1973: Debate with members of the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) position on homosexuality on the Phil Donahue Show, and at APA Convention.
  • 1975-1976: Gov. Milton Shapp establishes the first state nondiscrimination  employment executive order, He then creates the Governor’s Council for Sexual Minorities, which featured members of the LGBTQ+ community and liaisons from each governmental department.  Al other such current commissions and liaison’s stand onnthe shoulders of that work.
  • 1976: Philadelphia Congressman Robert N.C. Nix signs onto Congresswoman Bella Abzug’s Congressional LGBT Rights Bill: The first Equality Act.
  • 1979: Gov. Richard Thornburgh becomes the first Republican governor to pass a statewide resolution recognizing LGBTQ+ equality 
  • 1996: Philadelphia becomes the first city in the nation to receive congressional funding for an LGBTQ+ project, for what would become the William Way LGBT Community Center
  • 1998: The New York Times, Salon and PGN appear before the Supreme Court and defeat The Child Online Protection Act. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg referred to PGN in her questioning of the law. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg stated, and I paraphrase: “If this law stands, that would mean that publications like Philadelphia Gay News would not be allowed to publish medical and educational information about HIV/AIDS.”
  • 2005: Philadelphia’s 4th of July concert with Elton John, which raised more than $1m for HIV/AIDS awareness
  • 2014: Grand opening of the 19.8 million dollar John C. Anderson Apartments, affordable LGBTQ-friendly apartments; Marriage equality becomes law in Pennsylvania, a year before it becomes nationally recognized
  • And on May 20th 2014 Pennsylvania gained marriage equality a full year before Obergefell at the Supreme Court

That’s just a short list, and it’s a list we should take great pride in.

Last week, I had a run in with history. It’s rare when you are honored along with a living legend. In this case, it was Andrew Young, the iconic civil rights activist, former mayor of Atlanta and former congressman who also served as President Jimmy Carter’s ambassador to the United Nations. At 91 years, he can still chat about the history he witnessed and participated in, and at the turn of a page, make you laugh at today’s problems rather than get angry. He’s simply an inspiration.

We celebrated the 10th anniversary of a documentary we’re both featured in, “Voices of the Civil Rights Movement.” Comcast, the producers of the award-winning documentary, brought 20 of us together to celebrate. Upon arriving, they ushered us to the green room where — to my delight — Ambassador Young was presiding and sharing his history. His ability to connect history with today’s current events was something to marvel at. When the issue of immigration was mentioned, he told us of a plan during the Carter administration which would have created a second Panama Canal, this time through Nicaragua. As he put it: If we had followed that plan, the economic benefits in Central America would be so great that their citizens would be staying there, not traveling to the border today for jobs.

Never forget your history or the history you took part in. And take every chance you get to record it. You never know when it might be a lesson for the future.

Mark Segal is an American journalist. He is the founder and publisher of Philadelphia Gay News and has won numerous journalism awards for his column "Mark My Words," including best column by The National Newspaper Association, Suburban Newspaper Association and The Society of Professional Journalists.