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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 26, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 43
Arlen Specter's LGBT legacy
Section One
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Arlen Specter's LGBT legacy

A hidden history of the late Pennsylvania senator

by Mark Segal - Special to the SGN

Let me tell you how I met Arlen Specter, who died October 14 at age 82.

Back in the early days of the battle for Gay rights, Arlen was district attorney of Philadelphia. He had not taken a stand on the Gay rights bill that was before the City Council in 1973. Efforts to set up a meeting went unanswered. So we had to be a little creative.

One crisp Monday morning, a caterer delivered two large coffeemakers and dozens of donuts to Arlen's office. His staff assumed that Arlen had ordered the special treat, and Arlen assumed his staff had arranged it.

At the same time, in the City Hall courtyard and in the halls of the building, members of the Gay Raiders were handing out flyers that read, 'District Attorney Arlen Specter invites you to a reception in honor of Gay rights legislation in City Council. Please join him at 10 a.m. in his office, room 666.' (That really was his office number.)

A FRIENDLY AMBUSH
At 10 a.m., we, along with hundreds of city workers and a huge collection of newspeople, arrived at his office. We walked in and there was Arlen's staff trying not to look too surprised at a reception held in their office that their boss was having, about legislation he had not endorsed. Arlen remained in his inner office.

At first, the media took pictures of me handing out coffee and donuts to City Hall staffers, and we weren't sure if Arlen would even come out of his private office. Finally, the door to his office opened and there he was, all smiles. He walked over, shook my hand, helped me hand out coffee, and we then went into his private office. His first comment to me was, 'Mark Segal, who else would cater a disruption? Did you think I'd allow you to have all the media attention to yourself?' And then that big smile.

The Philadelphia Inquirer the following day (October 10, 1973) had a large picture of the event, or 'zap,' as we called such actions in those days. The caption read: 'District Attorney Arlen Specter shakes hands with Mark Segal, leader of the Gay Raiders, who parked outside the district attorney's office until he emerged and granted them an interview. The Raiders handed out free donuts and coffee while waiting for Specter.'

BEHIND-THE-SCENES ALLY
Arlen eventually went to the National District Attorneys Association and asked them to get on board and support nondiscrimination. Now, here's what you never knew. In Arlen's Republican years in the U.S. Senate, he was always behind the curtain ready to vote yes on a pro-LGBT bill if it was needed to assure passage. Only HRC and I were aware of that. His 1996 vote on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act nearly got the measure through - but despite his support, it failed by one vote. He later supported the repeal of both 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' and the Defense of Marriage Act.

In 2009, when HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan was in town, we were in the beginning stages of an LGBT-friendly senior residence project. We needed to meet with him, but his schedule was tight. Arlen said, 'Don't worry about it. Just meet me at his next-to-last stop while he's in Philadelphia and I'll arrange it.' As Donovan was about to leave, Sen. Specter, with me standing to one side, grabbed him and took us both to his car in the motorcade, where a Secret Service agent had the door open. Arlen allowed the secretary to get into his car and then followed and pushed me in at the same time. 'We're going to ride with you to the next stop,' he said. The secretary was not about to refuse a senator.

As a result, I had Donovan's undivided attention for 20 minutes. In hindsight, it's fair to say Arlen and I kidnapped the secretary of HUD. And a week from today, we will hold the groundbreaking on the nation's largest LGBT-friendly building project.

Thank you, Arlen!

Mark Segal publishes the Philadelphia Gay News. He can be reached at mark@epgn.com.

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