Last week was one for the memories. It started with an invitation from my friends Senator Sherif Street, who happens to also be Pennsylvania State Democratic Chairman, and his out chief of staff, Micah Mahjoubian, to have a couple of minutes and photo op with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. Who would not be humbled by such an invitation?
Through the years I’ve met and been photographed with President Biden, but never had the chance to meet Vice President Harris. My thoughts leading up to Friday were of those other times I’d had the chance to meet Joe Biden: while he was a Senator; after his nomination as Vice President with Barack Obama, when he came to the Pennsylvania Delegation the morning after to celebrate; at one of President Barack Obama’s White House receptions; a meeting in his office that assured the building of the nation’s first official affordable Senior LGBT friendly apartments, the John C. Anderson Apartments; the 2012 Democratic National Convention, where Jason and I realized our hotel room was in the Vice Presidents sealed off section of the hotel; and one other historic meeting that was personal and close to my heart. More on that in a moment.
I wondered if he recalled any of the times we met. After all, a Senator, Vice President and President, especially this one, meets thousands upon thousands of people every year.
When I arrived at the meeting last week in downtown Philadelphia, the Democratic Party’s national Winter meeting, my friend Micah acted as host. He was proud of how his office had worked with the National Democratic Committee to pull off such a successful meeting. I watched in pride. Almost any well known name in the party was there, including the superstar of the House, Nancy Palosi.
Micah ushered me into the special waiting room for those of us who were to have our photo op with Biden and Harris. A true honor. Most in the room were major democratic and Union leaders, party donors, and various members of key constituent groups. At one point I found myself chatting with a grandson of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. He told me fond stories of Eleanor.
Then it was time to line us up. I was number 21, and I was handed a card which said Mark Segal, Founder Philadelphia Gay News. From a previous similar experience, I knew that was the card to hand to the assistant to read to the President who you were. My time came and they announced me. On stage to a rush of photographers flashes, I introduced myself to the Vice President, and then I put my hand out for President Biden and he said, “Mark you’ve certainly come up in the world.” Then I smiled and said, “It’s been a long time since we’ve seen each other.” He replied “yes, Stonewall wasn’t it?” then leaned over to Vice President Harris and said “During the campaign I made a stop in Stonewall.” I added, “Yes you were handing out drinks, believe they were beers.”
That was June 2019, Stonewall 50, and being a Stonewall pioneer, at that time I was all over the news. The Associated Press had prepared for Stonewall 50 well: they had a video interview with me and others involved to release to TV stations across the country, as well as a written article on my personal memories of the Stonewall Riots. In June 2019 they wanted photos of me outside Stonewall to go with those packages. There we were on Christopher Street when former Vice President and Candidate for President Joe Biden arrived.
Then the Associated Press producer, Robert Bumsted, had an idea. Wouldn’t it be historic to have a Stonewall Riot pioneer meet Joe Biden inside the Stonewall? Robert asked me to wait in Sheridan Square park while he went off. A little while later he reappeared with a Biden staffer. They had others wait at the Stonewall door to usher me through a now packed bar. They literally parted the crowd so I could reach the same place where I used to dance in 1969. Biden was handing out drinks. His staff alerts him, he comes out, and we shake hands, pose for a photo, and have a few words. It’s like old times for me. The bar is crowded and loud.
What I recall of that short conversation is Biden saying ”Thanks for your service.” AP then took me to the back of the bar to get my reaction. It literally didn’t dawn on me how symbolic and historic that photo op was. Considering his memory of it, it’s clear President Biden not only gets it, but was proud to be part of LGBT History. Not only that, but to all the ageist people who say Biden’s memory is failing, he remembered meeting someone over three years ago during one of the most hectic times of his life, campaigning for President. How’s that for a good memory?
Thank you Micah and Sen. Street for allowing me to relive a moment of my history, and thank you, President Biden for helping us continue to make history.