Donald Carter and LGBT history


There’s one in every city — that person who, once he enters the room, makes us all feel a sense of togetherness no matter what the issues and turmoil in the LGBT community.

In Philadelphia, that person was Donald Carter.

You might have seen him on the HBO show “Real Time with Bill Maher.” Even his introduction on the show brought smiles to the faces of those who knew him. He would say with a twinkle in his eye, “I’m black. I’m gay. And I’m a Republican.”

I spoke at the celebration of the life of Donald Carter last Saturday, but that lovingly unifying event came a week in which I was speaking about LGBT history with people in New York.

My road to Carter’s ceremony made me appreciate him even more.

The week began with the trip to New York for a corporate speech — to a hedge fund, no less — and then to a filming of part of a documentary on Stonewall. It’s interesting to note the various issues that are causing riffs within that city’s LGBT community. Most interestingly is a disagreement over Gay Pride, or the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, now labeled “Stonewall 50.”

Those of us who were there 50 years ago are being asked everything from was it a riot or a revolution to what do you think about corporate influence in our community to the insulting myth of Judy Garland. 

Overall, it’s great to be asked questions. But what amazes me is that there is all this fighting over something that took place 50 years ago and we should be unified and celebrating. And maybe we should know our own history.

I should also note that during a program last Monday at Hunter College about the passage of New York’s first gay-rights legislation, the panel wouldn’t allow those who actually created the campaign to participate. That’s called censorship. Shame on you, Hunter! It is an example of LGBT history being rewritten. Oh, and it was a gay man and his self-interest that did this, but Hunter allowed it.

By the end of the week, I was back in Philly and ready to celebrate a man who I’ve known since the ’70s — Carter, who passed in February.

After a week of watching the NYC LGBT community eat its own, it was great to attend a celebration that was as diverse as it could get. People of every age and political spectrum in our community came out to show their love for a man who used that previously noted description of himself often, and it’s worth repeating: “I’m black, gay and a Republican.”

I honestly believe that there was only one other Republican in the room Saturday, and he was the former president of the Log Cabin Club. But we all applauded that familiar line, and understood why Carter was a Republican.

I never really believed he was. After all, he didn’t support most Republican candidates. In fact, he supported more Democrats. But hey, that was just one of his many charms.

He could say he was a Republican, as it gave him a platform. It got him on Maher’s show, where he charmed an audience who, it seems, mostly sees white faces when our community is discussed on TV.

Carter was Mr. Diversity, even in our community, and that was his special ingredient. He had opposing views, but he presented them in a way that was respectful to the person he was debating.

Maybe that’s why the celebration of his life had a standing-room-only crowd. I’m sure most present didn’t always agree with him, but they certainly respected him and his gifts to the community.

Mark Segal, PGN publisher, is the nation’s most-award-winning commentator in LGBT media. You can follow him on Facebook at or Twitter at