2021 has been an historic year for the LGBTQ community in Pennsylvania. Several municipalities around the state enacted nondiscrimination ordinances, ensuring that LGBTQ residents in those locations are protected in housing, employment and public accommodations. Our own Dr. Rachel Levine made history with her confirmation as Assistant Secretary of Health in the Biden Administration. And in a more personal landmark, this year PGN celebrated 45 years of publication, a true testament to the growth and vibrancy of the LGBTQ community locally, nationally, and internationally. We are proud to be an archive of four and a half decades of history.
However, despite the plentiful resources available today, it isn’t always easy to learn about the history our community has made. In most areas of this country, LGBTQ history is not taught in schools. Students won’t learn about Stonewall or “Don’t ask don’t tell” or Obergefell v. Hodges in the classroom. They won’t have to give presentations on Magnus Hirschfeld or write papers on Pauli Murray. They won’t have to know anything about LGBTQ events — past or present — to graduate. And yet such events are as important in this country’s history as any war or presidential election or scientific breakthrough.
PGN and other local LGBTQ newspapers across the country have been bringing readers this history for decades. Not only have we reported on history as it happened, but the newspapers themselves, especially in the early decades, are themselves historical. They were published when most Americans would not even utter the word gay, much less see it across the front cover of a newspaper or emblazoned on vending boxes around town. Now, copies of PGN are used for research and educational purposes. Anyone that reads them can quickly sense how much the community has grown in the decades since Stonewall.
It’s our goal to continue to bring people the news as it happens. It’s also our goal to remind readers of the people, places and events that have gotten overlooked, either because they happened during a time when such news was shunned or because they simply got lost in the all-too-familiar overcrowded news landscape.
For this year’s LGBTQ History Month, PGN and other local LGBTQ publications will be running profiles of LGBTQ people who made history. Glen Burke was the first openly gay player in Major League Baseball. Pauli Murray was a civil rights activist and the first Black woman to be ordained as an Episcopal priest. Willem Arondeus was a gay man who helped save thousands of people during WWII by destroying identity records. Tee Corrinne was an iconic lesbian photographer.
We’ll also be running features on important events in the community: the fight to allow same-sex couples to dance at Disneyworld; the efforts of a national LGBT museum to bring our history to the masses; the first meeting of AIDS activists at Larry Kramer’s apartment in New York City; the week that Philly was the center of the gay softball world.
All of these people and stories are important to our collective LGBTQ history. Our community would not be where it is today without each and every one of them. We have built from their legacy a thriving community that continues to fight for equality. As we have won and lost battles, we’ve found new challenges to overcome; as we’ve broken ground in arts and business and politics and education, we’ve continued to innovate and inspire.
In the very first issue of PGN in January 1976, one of our feature stories was the coming out of Dave Kopay, a former NFL player. It was big news back then. Professional athletes and former pro athletes rarely came out of the closet. Even in his retirement, Kopay’s story was an inspiration to many. 45 years later, in 2021, Carl Nassib became the first active NFL player to come out of the closet. And his story was again an inspiration, both to a new generation as well as those who remember Kopay all those decades ago.
Another story from that inaugural issue was the efforts to pass a gay rights bill in Philadelphia. Activists in the seventies worked tirelessly to lobby politicians and gain the votes in City Council to pass the bill, but they were unsuccessful. It wouldn’t be until 1982 that Philadelphia finally had its nondiscrimination bill. In 2021, the fight has now shifted to statewide. We’ve got local nondiscrimination bills in various municipalities around the state, but we’ve had trouble getting a state bill passed in Harrisburg. If there’s one thing to take from history here, it’s that sometimes legislation takes years or decades to see through.
It’s not just the stories from that 1976 PGN that are historically important. In that first issue, there were advertisements for businesses that served as important community hubs back when options were scant. Roscoe’s, Astral Plane, DCA, Giovanni’s Room, The Steps. Those places made history for the connections they helped foster and the visibility they brought to the community.
Another act of visibility that PGN and other LGBTQ newspapers fostered were the classifieds. Before dating apps and before the internet, people bared their souls in the classified ads, hoping to find a penpal, or a friend, or a date for the evening or forever. For some, the classified ad was their first coming out, the first time they announced to the world who they were. PGN’s classifieds drew people from states all over the region and in some cases around the country. It’s an early example of LGBTQ people finding ways to reach each other and start to form a community.
It’s our goal to make sure our history is not forgotten, but more importantly it’s our goal to make sure people build on our history to create an even stronger and more vibrant community. History can educate, it can inspire, and it even has within it some of the answers to the problems that continue to vex us.
So as we embark on this year’s LGBTQ History Month, we hope that you find a story that not only entertains or educates, but one that you can use in your own life to make things better for yourself and the people around you. It’s the best way to honor the legacy of the people who came before us, the people who paved the way.