Last Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission (PHMC) approved 24 new state historical markers, two of which commemorate Philly’s rich LGBTQ history — Latinx civil rights activist Gloria Casarez and Philadelphia Gay News.
PHMC began marking historical sites as early as 1946. Its mission was to signal to posterity pieces of Pennsylvania’s storied past, many of which shaped our nation. According to PHMC, these markers “chronicled the people, places and events that have affected the lives of Pennsylvanians over the centuries.” In more recent years, PHMC has doubled down on efforts to ensure generations to come remember the contributions and sacrifices of those marginalized communities that have been, until now, forgotten.
As part of this initiative, PGN is getting its very own blue and gold-embossed sign to memorialize its rightful place in Pennsylvanian history.
PGN was founded by Mark Segal in 1976 and is the oldest weekly LGBTQ newspaper as well as the most awarded in the United States.
“We at PGN are elated at having our newspaper, our community’s newspaper, recognized for its pioneering work for nearly half a century,” Segal said. “It’s an honor all in our community can take pride in. It’s thanks to a professional staff that has never missed a deadline, a staff who understands that this paper at times is a lifeline. Personally, I take pride that we have lived up to our mission, ‘Honesty, Integrity and Professionalism.’ This newspaper provides its readership with information it needs, even when that information is difficult to hear. We have always delivered that news so our community can protect itself, engage in dialogue, celebrate its accomplishments and victories, and even fight for our very lives.”
Segal started PGN to create a space for the LGBTQ community and provide one of very few ways people could receive information during the burgeoning LGBTQ rights movement. The paper also became a vital resource during the AIDS/HIV epidemic. PGN quickly became the largest LGBTQ newspaper circulating on the East Coast with over 25,000 weekly readers. But the journey wasn’t without struggle.
“At times we had to fight to keep the doors open,” Segal continues, “People destroyed our offices, trashed our purple vending boxes and put us on the KKK hit list. This historical designation recognizes that fight, the fight that all the LGBTQ community has been a part of, the fight for equality, the fight that continues to this day.”
Gloria Casarez will be the first Mexican American memorialized by a historical marker. A few years before her untimely death, PGN published excerpts from Casarez’s blog about her struggle with cancer and her lifetime spent in service to the LGBTQ community. She was the first director of the Philadelphia Office of LGBT Affairs and, through her efforts here, made Philly one of the leading cities in LGBTQ rights. During her tenure, Philly’s LGBTQ community benefitted from HIV/AIDS education and health initiatives. Project Home opened the Gloria Casarez Residence — the first LGBTQ permanent housing for young people — in 2019. Many people might have seen the large mural on the Gayborhood’s 12th Street Gym, where Casarez looks toward a brighter future.