“I’m standing across the street from Stonewall in Sheridan Square. Here I was, an 18-year-old kid living at the YMCA in a six-dollar-a-night room with no job, no prospects for the future, no real place to live and no money in my pocket. I’m thinking, What am I going to do? And it came to me: This is exactly what I wantto do. I’m going to be a gay activist.”
More than 45 years after that fateful night outside the Stonewall Inn, Mark Segal still considers himself, first and foremost, an activist.
“That’s what’s inside me and what always will be,” he says. “Everything else is secondary.”
Adding to his list of “secondary” titles is a new one: author. Segal, the founder and publisher of Philadelphia Gay News, has just released his memoir, “And Then I Danced.”
The 320-page book takes readers from Segal’s meager beginnings in a Philadelphia housing project to his pinnacle of dancing with his husband in the White House.
But as the significance of his decades of activism began to manifest itself to him, Segal started seriously considering recounting that work in book form—especially at the prompting of his now-husband, Jason Villemez.
Segal had been amassing vignettes of his recollections, which he thought could serve as the memoir’s foundation. He set to work creating an outline of his life, checking dates and facts and researching his own storied history.
Exploring the struggles of his childhood in the first chapter was among the most challenging aspects of writing “And Then I Danced”—as the self-doubt Segal experienced in his youth resurfaced.
Working with editor Michael Dennehy, Segal crafted and recrafted 15 chapters for a final product that takes readers through the LGBT community’s evolution, seen along-side Segal’s own development. From his burgeoning coming out beginning with a childhood pull to the Sears, Roebuck catalog’s male models—Segal’s story is as much a commentary on the times as it is on his own experiences.
“I wanted to show young gay people how our community got the rights that we have today. It wasn’t writing letters or visiting Congress people,” he recalls. “Many of us got arrested, received death threats, were targets of physical violence. It was a rough ride getting to where we are today. It wasn’t, ‘One, two three We’re there.’ Any social justice movement takes a lot of work and a lot of time.”
For Segal, much of that work in the past four decades was focused on getting Philadelphia Gay News off the ground. “And Then I Danced” traces the history of the publication, which celebrates its 40th anniversary next year.
Editor’s Note: After less than a month, “And Then I Danced” is in its second printing. This article has been edited for republishing with permission by Mark Segal.