PGN at 45: One Writer’s First Encounter with Philadelphia Gay News

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Growing up in the city, my family lived between 11th and 12th Streets. The primary means to go into Center City — and then return home — was via the number 23 bus which ran north on 11th street and south on 12th. I spent a lot of time in the Gayborhood waiting for the bus to go home. 

It was there I first encountered a purple PGN box. The word “gay” in the title was personally legitimizing. 

Of course, there were gay men in my adolesence. Such as the young waiters who called my choice of shirt fabulous. The older men in their Pine Street shops who praised my questions about their antiques, and an “uncle” who held court with my favorite aunt in her dining room. He loved thrift stores, recycling greeting cards (which I thought was just the coolest thing ever!), and just adored Dorothy Zbornak’s wardrobe on “The Golden Girls.” 

Secretly, even as a boy, I wondered how “they” lived their lives. It seemed impossible to me, a child who thought smokers on the street needed special licenses, that gay people had lives. How did they do it? How were they accepted? Was there a license involved? Some type of permission? 

It took me a while to bring myself to writing as a vocation. Despite my childhood fears, coming out came about much faster; far easier than imagined. I knew I wanted to write, but was given advice by a jealous family member against it. Tellingly, she is also a writer. Luckily, my college alma mater was -—and still is — a clearinghouse for the publishing industry in New York. 

As many writers, artists, and freelancers know — getting your foot in the door is the key to building a life in your craft. So, I first got published when a friend landed an editorship with Metrosource magazine. 

From there, other work followed. Including work as an editor in South Florida, a travel piece that got translated into French and German, several columns on gay life, and a series of interviews with Elliot Tiber, the dearly departed gay writer who saved Woodstock. He put my review of one of his last books on the dust jacket. Therefore, it was with great enthusiasm I interviewed Philly’s own Tom Wilson Wienberg who, like Tiber, has dedicated his life to gay themes. 

When my fiance and I realized our life in Oregon was coming to an end, I reached out to PGN letting them know about our proposed return. We happily recounted that in “Wagons East,” my first column for “Mark and Jason,” as I say at home. A local reader even reached out to me thanking me for the follow-up column, “Bells Will Be Ringing” which was published just a few issues ago.

Coming back to Philly meant somehow, despite a decade away from my native city, I’d find a writing home. Perhaps precociously: I decided it would be with that paper in the purple box I encountered as a pre-teen. 

Sure enough, I did! I wouldn’t say I harassed Messrs. Segal and Villemez, but I certainly checked in quite a bit. Last June they assigned me my first story, about how Gayborhood businesses were surviving during the COVID-19 shutdowns. This has given me several opportunities to write about how our health organizations are handling the pandemic. I am now proud to have written complementary pieces on expanding health care for LGBTQ+ residents in Haddonfield, and through Cooper Health in New Jersey

I have always been interested in politics. But after 15 years in the field, it’s really only with this publication that I have written political pieces. One such political piece on our own celebrated Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta was even reprinted in the Pennsylvania Capital-Star.

As I recounted in that first column, Portland’s liberal population and outlook is great for our community. But, their so-called mainstream publications do a great job handling queer content. This meant there was not much in the way of work for me, as I prefer working with LGBTQ owned publications. Writing for PGN grounds me both as a writer and as a native son who always missed Philly. 

I look forward to contributing to the legacy of this newspaper. A little over a decade ago, there was a scare that gay newspapers would fold, pun very much intended. Fortunately, as we celebrate the 45th anniversary of Philadelphia Gay News, that’s not the story we’re writing.