From Stonewall to the Pennsylvania Society

The Pennsylvania Society claims to be the oldest club of its type. It was founded when Pennsylvania was the center of the banking and railroad industries and generally filled with the wealthiest people in the nation. (You might recall a Katherine Hepburn movie titled “The Philadelphia Story.”) Each year, this group of socialites and, now, the politically powerful meet in New York City for a weekend of over-the-top dinners, luncheons, cocktail parties and a tux-only gala.

I’ve been invited for the last 20 years and have avoided it like the plague. But this year, with other reasons to be in New York that week, I packed the tux and decided to dive in. And it proved to be an eye-opening experience.

Earlier in the day, my boyfriend Jason and I took a holiday shopping trip, which, at one point, took us to the Village and The Stonewall. Jason asked if we should go in for a drink — after all, it is the Stonewall, and he’s heard me talk about it so often.

Inside the Stonewall, we noticed historic pictures of the times and events of the 1969 riots and demonstrations. We then noticed that there was a photo of me on the wall — and we had to take a picture of me next to my 1969 picture. Afterward, a group came over and asked about the story of the riots and what followed. It was emotional recalling the history of that special time.

Then it was back to the hotel to change into our tuxes. My expectation of being in numerous parties with most of Pennsylvania’s movers and shakers that I’d be on the sidelines. That seemed never more true than when we passed former Sen. Rick Santorum as he was leaving the Waldorf-Astoria, who, seeing me, groaned, “Oh no.” Off to a good start.

Inside, we were greeted like conquering heroes: at the governor’s reception, a kiss from our First Lady Midge Rendell; at other parties, a rush of candidates for governor, district attorney and other offices pushing others aside to grab my arm and make their case for support; at one senator’s party, I felt like a celebrity as everyone wanted a photo with me.

It got so out of hand that one politician asked if I was interested in possibly aligning myself to run for office.

At that point, my thoughts went back to that afternoon in the Stonewall and the picture of me marching against oppression, long hair, jeans, with a cause. And here I was, almost 40 years later, in a tux being courted by the same people we had to fight to gain our rights. It never occurred to me in 1969 that any of this was even a possibility.

What an incredible journey.

Mark Segal is PGN publisher. He can be reached at [email protected]