Mark My Words: Taking on 2017 with Lessons from the Past

We’ve reach that time of year when we look back, take stock of the year and begin to think about what will be in the New Year. This year, that is somewhat clouded and overshadowed — as is everything at this point — by the election of Donald Trump as the next president of the United States of America.

So let’s begin there. It happened, but take solace in the fact that half of Americans didn’t vote for him, or that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by almost 3 million. And for the fears of what might come, I’ll tell you about a conversation I had with another LGBT pioneer, Kay Lahusen.

Kay and I have been friends back to my Gay Liberation Front days in New York City. She had already been an activist for years, along with her partner of many years Barbara Gittings. But Kay has a place in our history as well. She literally is the nation’s first out LGBT photojournalist. Many of those pictures you’ve seen from the Annual Reminder Day pickets in front of Independence Hall in the 1960s were Kay’s.

Over those many years, Kay and I have seen the evolution of our community and we’ve seen it in times of joy and crisis. So it was not usual, during our holiday call, for us to discuss the state of the community and where it stands after Trump’s election.

The first and easiest point we both agreed on was that we as a community had already lived through Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush — and survived. Reagan and Bush are responsible for thousands of LGBT deaths. Yes, you read that correctly. Reagan for his lack of action during the early stages of AIDS and Bush through his bashing of our community to win re-election.

We who have lived in times of challenges and who fought those fights look at this from a different perspective than younger generations. We know the battlefield, we know what can be accomplished. While that last paragraph may have been shocking, this next line should give you comfort: During those times, we as a community learned how to overcome and to organize for our very lives.

Kay and I both realized that younger people in our community have only seen growth and acceptance and didn’t live in a time of such challenges. We both believe we will all meet this latest challenge and we’ll be a better and stronger community for it. Sometimes challenges result in progress. And that brings hope for the future.

We believe in you to make it work. We believe in our future.

Mark Segal, Philadelphia Gay News publisher, is the nation’s most-award-winning commentator in LGBT media. You can follow him on Facebook at MarkSegalPGN or Twitter at PhilaGayNews. His memoir AND THEN I DANCED is available online and at your favorite bookstore.