Listen up, LGBT history fans.


When you think of LGBT history, you likely think of San Francisco or New York City, but the truth is, 40 years ago, Pennsylvania was at the vanguard of the American struggle for LGBT equality. You’re probably thinking I’m going to mention those pickets outside Independence Hall every July 4 from 1965-69, or the Dewey’s sit-in in 1965. None of the above.


This week in Harrisburg, the State Museum of Pennsylvania held a program to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Governor’s Council on Sexual Minorities. This was the first time in American history that a government body was created to look into the issues of the LGBT community. There was no roadmap; instead, Gov. Milton Shapp built the roads for every mayor, governor and even president to make strides for LGBT equality.

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He not only created the council, he backed it up with an executive order ending antigay discrimination in all state departments under his jurisdiction. He also issued the first statewide gay Pride resolution in the nation. I say all of this with some pride, since Gov. Shapp was my friend. That friendship came from a letter I wrote Gov. Shapp in 1973, which has just been unearthed in the State Archives.


He was courageous. Up until him, no U.S. governor had ever been willing to even meet with, as we were called then, gay activists. Gov. Shapp, however, not only met with us, he had his press team invite media to photograph the meeting. But most importantly, he took our issues seriously.


Every state department was to have a representative at meetings of the council, which was comprised of gay activists. Members would then pair off with the various department heads to talk about changing government from the inside. Nothing like this had ever been done before.


There were 30 departments under Gov. Shapp’s purview, and 27 of them made sweeping changes because of this council. At each change, the legislature would fight back, and the governor held his ground. At times, his own party pleaded for him to stop. He got death threats, people protested him wherever he went, his family was harassed, but he continued. Why?


As he told me when I asked, “My real last name is Shapiro. I had to change it to get into politics. I understand discrimination when I see it.”


Governor, thank you for your leadership as the nation’s first LGBT ally governor.

 

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.

 

 

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