Every year, the second weekend before Christmas, Pennsylvania’s blue bloods, elected officials, hospital, museum, union and university presidents and those politically connected gather en mass in New York City and encamp at The Waldorf Astoria for what is known as the Pennsylvania Society weekend.
Over the years, it has morphed from an organization of the blue bloods of Philadelphia and New York to the foremost lobbying weekend of the year. Almost every elected official who counts is there, to meet supporters and build new alliances. Everything is possible in politics.
Three years ago, I finally decided to give it a try, and must admit how surprised I was at my reception: It was very welcoming. So last weekend, I embarked on my third trip to New York to join the powerbrokers of our state.
This year was different than the previous two. It was obvious that Republicans had taken over Harrisburg for all intents and purposes. Moreover, those Republicans are mostly from the western part of the state — not a good sign for Philadelphia and Southeastern Pennsylvania. So it was time to meet the new governor, senator and leaders of our House of Representatives and Senate — as well as hang out with our political friends.
While there are a sprinkling of gay people at the event — which draws thousands and brings about $20 million to the New York City economy each year — it seems that Jason and I were the only obvious gay couple in attendance. And, after three years, hardly a notice.
State Rep. Mike O’Brien (D-175th Dist.) loves to introduce me to Republicans. His line: “Meet my friend Mark Segal,” then very slowly so they hear each word, “He’s publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News.” He shouts the word gay. His chief of staff, Mary Isaacson, makes it a point that I meet anyone running for statewide office.
People kept coming up to Jason and me and asking what it was like dancing in the White House, or what was served for dinner. Others came over to chat about my favorite project, the LGBT-friendly senior residences. Those who helped us raise the $8 million in funding we now have came over and asked, “When am I cutting that ribbon?” Senators and House representatives were asking if there was anything else they could do — and these were Democrats and Republicans alike. I was smiling from ear to ear. Union leaders were thanking me for bringing union jobs to the city. Aging activists said they wanted to get involved, including the former state director of aging and our new city commission on aging. I ran into Sen. Bob Casey, who has been helping with the project, and he asked if my meetings in D.C. last Tuesday went well. It is, by far, the most positive project I’ve ever worked on.
I also had a pleasant conversation with Sen.-elect Pat Toomey and congratulated Gov.-elect Tom Corbitt. These are people that we in the LGBT community will have to work with, so it is important to keep the lines of communication open. After all, it was keeping lines open that helped us get domestic-partnership rights in Philadelphia. Thacher Longstreth was the Republican vote that changed the thinking in City Council: That bill was the only piece of legislation not supported by the Council president to pass. That, my friends, is what fighting for true equal rights is all about: communication and education.
Mark Segal is PGN publisher. He is the nation’s most-award-winning commentator in LGBT media, having recently received the 2010 Columnist of the Year Award from the 2,000-member Suburban Newspapers of America. He can be reached at [email protected].