What makes a hero?

I had a smile last week. Someone tried to use my words to champion a project without my knowledge, and without even knowing the full story.  Here’s the issue and how two community organizations dealt with it by saying, simply: not on our property.

Former Sen. Arlen Specter was a man I worked with at times. I’ve written about him fondly in this column and in my book.

Those writings were used in an attempt to support a historic marker being erected in front of one of our LGBT community buildings, proclaiming Specter as an LGBT pioneer or hero.  

Arlen was a friend, but he was not a hero or pioneer of this community when compared to others.  It took pressure to get him to the table of equality. I know, since I’m the one who applied that pressure (Note: The Philadelphia Inquirer, Oct. 10, 1973). He opened up slowly to LGBT issues, and while he should be applauded for doing the right thing, that does not make for a hero nor pioneer. 

Aside from any LGBT issues associated with Specter, other issues exist in his history such as his treatment of Anita Hill during the Senate confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas, something that angers many people to this day.

We should be spending our time honoring those who, to date, have not been honored. One particular name comes to mind — Dr. Ethel Allen, a former City Council member and Pennsylvania Secretary of State. When Googling her name, you will find 45,000 unique results. For a comparison, Arlen has over 600,000 unique results.

Want to honor someone outside of the LGBT community in front of an LGBT building? Former Gov. Milton Shapp, a national leader on gay rights dating back to 1974, might be a valid choice. Former council member Bill Boyle, who was the first Council member to introduce gay rights legislation in Philadelphia is another. And, what about U.S. Rep. Robert N.C.Nix, a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus, who introduced one of the first equality bills in Congress? Each of them supported our community openly and with pride during a time when it wasn’t popular to do so. Specter did it behind the scenes and only publicly when it became popular.  

Specter certainly deserves credit for what he did later in his career, but it doesn’t even come close to someone like former Gov. Ed Rendell, or former Philadelphia Councilman Angel Ortiz — people who have been on our side, without question, from the very beginning.