PGN’s first issue was published on January 3, 1976. The paper was 36 pages and included articles on the fight to get a gay rights bill through City Council, an update on the murder of Knight-Ridder heir John S. Night III, a feature gay and lesbian people in athletics, and a column about mobilizing the gay and lesbian vote in elections.
Until September 1976, PGN was printed in Pittsburgh, along with the Pittsburgh Gay News, Ohio East Gay News, and the Atlanta Gay News, which made up the first LGBTQ media chain in the country. Longtime staffer Don Pignolet made the drive once a month to bring copies of PGN back to Philadelphia.
For the first two years the paper was released monthly, but in March 1978, due to increasing demand for LGBTQ news, it increased to two issues a month. And in 1982, the same year City Council passed the first LGBT nondiscrimination bill, PGN became a weekly newspaper.
The first Philadelphia-produced editions of PGN were put together at employee Keith Clarke’s apartment at 2220 Spruce Street. Later in 1976, the paper found a permanent home at 233 S. 13th St., a former laundromat. Back then, issues were manually made using typewriters, non repro blue paper, wax, and press type. Then the single finished paper was delivered to the printer for mass production.
Along with Clarke’s apartment and 13th St., the paper has had three other homes: 1108 Spruce St. (1983), 254 S. 11th St. (1983-1995), and 505 S. 4th St. (1995-present).
In September 1977, the famous purple vending boxes began lining the sidewalks. Copies cost 50 cents, and office supplies and food for staff was often bought using rolls of quarters. For decades the vending boxes were the primary way people discovered the paper. Then, in 1996, the first PGN website launched.
Just as the physical paper has undergone design changes (notably in 1991, 2011, and 2019) the website has also been updated over the years to reflect the changing news landscape and the needs of readers. Now, both the print edition and the web site house local, regional, national and international news about the LGBTQ community.
As of this issue, PGN has published 2,137 editions and won hundreds of awards, including the national Sigma Delta Chi award, one of the highest journalism awards in the country. Some of the award-winning features included Tim Cwiek’s reportage on the Nizah Morris case, which has been going on for 18 years and is still ongoing; Victoria Brownworth’s investigative reporting on homeless LGBT teenagers; ongoing coverage of marriage equality statewide and nationally; and features on domestic violence in the LGBT community.
However, despite the awards, despite the longevity, and despite the burgeoning LGBTQ community, it wasn’t always an easy road for PGN. The purple vending boxes beloved by many were often firebombed or glued shut. Many of the early staff received death threats. And state and national journalism organizations gave the paper the cold shoulder. PGN tried for over a decade to become a member of the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, but year after year the organization declined PGN’s application without giving a reason. It took members of the Philadelphia Daily News arguing at a PNA board meeting for PGN to finally be granted membership.
As time passed and the LGBTQ community became more respected culturally, politically, and economically, so too did PGN. The paper covered topics which were rarely brought up even in other LGBTQ media, including a first of its kind series on lesbian nuns in the 1980s, features from Cuba, Russia, Jordan, Egypt, and East Germany, as well as continual articles on LGBTQ history — something that publisher Mark Segal is especially proud of.
One of the most famous incidents involving PGN was in April 2008 when the paper ran a blank space where presidential hopeful Barack Obama had declined an interview. At that point it had been 1,522 days since then-candidate Obama had given an interview to local gay press. The cover made national headlines, and five months later, future President Barack Obama gave an interview to PGN. Since then, the paper has interviewed every Democratic Presidential candidate, as well as countless leaders on the local, state, and federal levels.
While the big-ticket interviews are important to remind people of the importance and power of LGBTQ media, PGN’s main focus has always been — and always will be — the LGBTQ community and the diversity of people who are a part of it. Just as the community has grown in numbers and reach, so too has PGN’s coverage, from youth supplements to senior supplements, from our past, present, and future.
The past 45 years have been ones of immense cultural change and an incredible rise in rights for the LGBTQ community. But the years have also been a wonderful reminder of the vibrant people and organizations that drive equality and joy. And through it all, PGN is proud to have been there.
We look forward to what comes next.