Mark Segal, Philadelphia Gay News publisher, is the nation's most-award-winning commentator in LGBT media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you've read my columns and posts long enough, you know that the author, yours truly, doesn't shock easily. But, when I do, it's usually an eye-opener. Now before I go any further, I guess I should say I have ulterior motives for this post. Over the years, there have been way too many interview requests, but let me tell you about one very special request that I just had to respect. It's not unusual for me to get calls or emails from students who are doing reports or papers on LGBT issues and who want a quote or interview. Most times, it's a pleasure to talk with them and those interactions have just become commonplace over the years. Here's the exception.
The phone rings and the earpiece is at my ear when I hear a young girl's voice say, "My father suggested that I call you regarding a report on gay rights I'm doing for my school term paper." My questions are the usual: What school? What question? What part of LGBT history are you interested in? And that's where it changed. She said, "I'm not calling you about your activism, I'm calling you since I understand that my grandfather was involved with the gay-rights movement and my father told me you worked with him." She then said, "My father's name is Richard Shapp." And hearing that brought chills.
Her grandfather was Pennsylvania Gov. Milton Shapp. Richard was his son, and now his granddaughter, Rachel, was asking what he did. She had no idea, and unfortunately most Americans don't. And believe me, he's one of the most important figures in the early gay-rights movement. He was a pioneer.
At a time when no one higher in government than a mayor would meet with gay activists, Gov. Shapp in 1973 became the first governor in the nation to do so. That meeting led to the launch of the first official governmental body to look into the problems faced by the gay community - and the governor ordered all state departments to participate in that effort. This was a first not for just Pennsylvania, not for the nation, but the first such official governmental body of its type in world history. Never before had a government offered to create an official panel to look into ways to better serve its LGBT citizens. It was called the Governor's Commission on Sexual Minorities. And it became the model for the world.
In 1975, Gov. Shapp issued the first state executive order to end anti-gay discrimination in state government, again something never done before. The following year, he issued the state's first official gay Pride resolution. And, when he went on a Don Quixote mission of running for president that year, he had the first official presidential gay campaign outreach, Gays for Shapp. While he only won one precinct in the Florida primary, Coconut Grove (then the gay ghetto in Miami), his campaign did lead another candidate to look into gay rights - some peanut farmer from Plains, Ga. His name was Jimmy Carter, and he appointed the first presidential liaison to the gay community.
Shapp was also my political mentor. We became close friends. My memories of him are many, and some outrageous. Once, when the head of the State Police tried to buck the nondiscrimination executive order, Shapp called and ordered me to set up a press conference and apply to become a state trooper ... true. The colonel gave in. After a long day of fighting, I asked Shapp why he was taking this on, and he told me, "Mark, I'm in the closet as well." When I looked at him strangely he laughed and followed up with, "My real name is Shapiro, I had to change it to Shapp. So I understand discrimination."
I told you I had a motive in writing this. Here it is: Each time I do one of these interviews, I always ask the student to send me their finished paper. They rarely do. Likewise, I haven't seen this one. So, Rachel, if this gets to you and you still have that paper, I'd love to read it. Milt, you'd be proud of your granddaughter. She has your need to search for the truth and find justice.