There are no gay Jews
by Mark Segal
Jan 19, 2012 | 2487 views | 5 5 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
For me, the aging process has led to a clearer view of equality. After all, it has been the passion of my life for 42 years. Everywhere I travel, I’m in search of how our community is depicted. Unfortunately, I notice we are not always included. That is discrimination by censorship. And unfortunately, many of our national organizations get a failing grade on this subject. They don’t understand the seriousness of this censorship. Even GLAAD doesn’t know the history of the battle to end censorship in mainstream media. They must learn that our collective history is the building blocks for our future, and the justification of why our struggle for equality deserves to become a reality.

About two months ago, my nephew and I visited the new National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia. The museum opened a little over a year ago with much fanfare. It was a spectacular debut with the likes of Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler, Steven Spielberg and Jerry Seinfeld. The museum not only covered the plight of the Jews in coming to the States, it showcased their religious and political views. It also highlights 12 people from the Jewish community who represent who Jews are and their contributions to American society.

It’s a shock and a failure on the part of the museum that we gay Jews do not exist. A total failure, and they should bow their heads in shame. That’s a tough statement, but as I went through the museum and saw how Jews dealt with the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the fight for civil rights and women’s rights, it was obvious that something was missing. LGBT. In fact, I didn’t find those four letters anywhere in the museum.

Here’s the rub. Many of the most prominent pioneers of the LGBT community were Jewish; perhaps the most well known, Harvey Milk, does not even get a mention. In fact, in what might look like a backhanded insult to the LGBT community, there are two gay men in the museum’s Hall of Fame gallery — Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein — who are both closeted thanks to the museum, as neither of their displayed bios mentions it.

Not only is this discrimination by censorship, it reminds me of a time when, in the Jewish tradition, if you discovered something about a member of the family that was shameful, you didn’t talk about it. Does the museum find LGBT shameful? This becomes somewhat personal for me since, in my family, one of my cousins was one of “those individuals.” At the tender age of 16, my cousin Norman was asked to leave his home. As a child on the streets in the 1950s, he was homeless and had a life of drugs and alcohol. And growing up, we children occasionally heard his name and asked about him. We were told we don’t talk about cousin Norman. Imagine growing up, knowing you’re gay, and discovering the real story of cousin Norman. How do you tell your parents? Do you worry about what the rest of the family will think? Does it sound like the 1950s? That is what the NMAJH has done. On behalf of my cousin Norman, shame on you!

Mark Segal, PGN publisher, is the nation’s most-award-winning commentator in LGBT media. He can be reached at

Comments-icon Post a Comment
February 13, 2012
First, Adam, I agree with you completely. But comments like yours, and mine, and any others that challenge or contradict PGN never see the light of day in print.

As for the NO JEWISH GAYS, I say, who the hell are you to tell the museum what they have to do? If you had a LGBT museum, would you run around changing everything if someone bitched that you didn't mention that some gay person was Jewish? Or Irish? Or Japanese? Or Republican?

You didn't go to the Biography Museum. You went to the Jewish History Museum. The Jewish background should be sufficient.

You can't run around telling the rest of the world that we're 'just like everyone else' and that 'what we do in the privacy of our own homes is our business' and then turn around and think that we have to push what these people did in private was important enough to label them as 'different.'
January 24, 2012
I have emailed the Museum and shared your piece with them. According to a letter to the editor submitted by the Museum to this publication (which they have shared with me), Harvey Milk not only is featured in the Museum, but is celebrated for being a pioneer of the LGBT rights movement.

I myself have visited the Museum only once and did not have time to see all the exhibits. Is it possible that you missed the exhibit to which they're referring? Did you reach out to the Museum and ask for an explanation of this "discrimination by censorship"?

If you have not contacted the Museum directly, I hope that you will do so. I hope that you will publish their letter. And I hope that you were not quick to call for an institution to be shamed without having first confirmed that you weren't mistaken.

Mark Segal
January 27, 2012
I'll be at the Museum this coming week to meet with them as well as be shown the items that I somehow missed....... ? I'll be doing a follow-up column after.

sonja p.
January 23, 2012
Maybe it s still a struggle for the Jewish culture ,give them time to fix it! If they don't ,shame on them!
February 01, 2012
there is much we dont discuss, and mark, you are guilty as well, of bias and selectivity. you comment frequently on the catholic chuch and child sex abuse crimes, but you become silent when of abuse among jews, once again, a scandal breaks, most recently in brooklyn, where 85 jewish men were arrested for raping and filming up to 117 young boys. last year an 8 y/o mentally retarded boy was gang-raped at mikveh. you wrote of penn state, but left bernie fine at syracuse university (a founder of a jewish coach organization) who raped young men and boys - with his wife's knowledge, apparently. recently, it has been reported that his wife also had sex with the young men/boys. many rabbis seek and get asylum in israel, and you are silent.i didnt see anything on the israeli-based intelligence agency who was spying, making lists, and reporting to rendell and its israeli agency names and activities of gay, animal rights, and environmentalists. i hope, mark, that you will see your errors and bias, and like the museum, try and correct them.

shame indeed