Legendary activist Mark Segal visits UNISON Centre

LGBT+ activist Mark Segal joined us at UNISON Centre in July to discuss his part in the Stonewall Riots and over 50 years of activism and journalism

The riot was about the police doing what they constantly did; indiscriminately harassing us. The police represented every institution of America that night: religion, media, medical, legal, and even our families, most of whom had been keeping us in our place. We were tired of it’.

Mark Segal has many memories from that night at the Stonewall Inn – the events of which sparked a world wide movement for gay liberation – and he shared some of them with an enthralled audience at UNISON Centre last month. Mark was in the UK as a guest of our friends at Medway Pride Radio, and we were delighted to host the opening night of his first ever UK speaking tour.

The evening began with a speech from General Secretary Christina McAnea, who welcomed Mark to London and reaffirmed UNISON’s commitment to the LGBT+ community. Christina spoke passionately about our union’s role in defending the rights of transgender people, telling the audience that ‘I have never felt, as a woman, that my rights were threatened by giving rights to transgender women’. She was then joined on stage by Shea Coffey of Medway Pride Radio, and artist Jonathan Ash, as they presented Mark with a special gift; a portrait of his hero Alan Turing.

With over five decades experience fighting for gay rights, Mark had some incredible stories to tell, including the foundation of the Gay Liberation Front, his editorship of the Philadelphia Gay News, and time spent working with Barrack Obamas’ government to provide retirement homes for elderly LGBT+ people – who are at particular risk of ill-treatment. However, it was his vivid recollections of direct action that the audience enjoyed most, particularly his famous 1973 invasion of the CBS Evening News studio, where he ran in front of host Walter Cronkite and held up a sign to the camera reading, ‘Gays Protest CBS Prejudice’. Cronkite was one of the most popular television presenters of the age and this action gave Mark a huge platform; he was later instrumental in Philadelphia passing one of the first ever bills protecting gay people from prejudice and discrimination.

After a short break in which guests shared memories of their own, Mark went back to the stage to answer questions from the audience. South East LGBT+ SOG committee member Lucy Power was one of the first to speak, asking Mark for his thoughts on the recent overturning of Roe vs Wade and its implications for gay people. Mark said this was a demonstration that, although many advances had been made by the Stonewall generation, the fight for equality was still ongoing, and the activists of today had to defend their rights. He was particularly concerned about continued attacks on the trans community and the wider threat to same-sex relationships by a homophobic judiciary.

A truly special night ended with a huge round of applause, and many requests for photographs with the legendary campaigner. National LGBT+ Officer Mitch Coe said that he was ‘very grateful to Mark for sharing so many wonderful stories with us. He is an inspirational figure for all LGBT+ people, and I’m proud that our union was able to host him this evening’.

Dominic Rothwell, secretary of the South East LGBT+ SOG echoed Mitch’s thoughts, saying that ‘it was an honour to hear Mark talk this evening, and I am delighted that so many of our regional activists were able to be here tonight’.

UNISON South East has worked very closely with Medway Pride Radio in recent years, and would like to thank them for the opportunity to support Mark’s tour. If you would like to know more about their fantastic organisation then please check out their website here.

UNISON recently launched a new campaign focused on trans-equality and we encourage all our members to get involved and show their support by visiting our website at this link.

Photo credits: Dan Baber (top), Ben Archell (middle), Patrick Young (bottom).