The Gayest Feud Ever: Mark Segal vs. Malcolm Lazin

Through three decades of activism, Mark Segal and Malcolm Lazin turned Philadelphia into one of the most gay-friendly cities in America. But when their long-simmering feud—lit by a shocking e-mail sent 12 years ago—bubbled back to the surface this spring, it threatened the legacy they fought so hard to build

Segal, conversely, came out at 18, to the dual reactions of accepting parents and societal persecution. It’s become trendy to say, “I was there that day at Stonewall,” but Segal actually was, joining the gay men and drag queens who, for the first time, fought back against oppressive police harassment at the Stonewall Bar in New York City in 1969. His fuse lit, he took off into activism. “No one had seen anything like him,” remembers Goode. “He was very much in my face. But once I had a chance to talk to him in private, he was very goal-oriented and reasonable. He just wanted results for his community.”

Today, both men continue to serve as unofficial spokesmen for the gay community, filling hundreds of pages of newsprint between them. The curtain on Lazin’s prestigious Equality Forum goes up every spring, drawing a global gay contingent to the city; he’s also working to promote an LGBT history month in city schools. Segal’s PGN remains a corrective force whenever homophobia threatens to ruin the good thing we’ve got going—publicizing, this summer, the suspension of a city Parking Authority worker who allegedly spouted gay slurs at a male couple. He’s also working toward developing an LGBT-friendly old folks’ home, right in the Gayborhood. But anything either man might do now will look meager in comparison to what the two accomplished in the long-ago, when they helped create the circumstances in which gay Philadelphians could be as assimilated as they are today.

“I don’t know them,” local out businessman Doug Reinke tells me, “but I would have to thank Malcolm Lazin and Mark Segal. Because they were out for me, and for a lot of people, when we couldn’t be out for ourselves.”

It’s a touching testament—one that could no doubt be repeated many thousands of times by many thousands of people. Unfortunately, this tribute has been tainted by the two men’s boundless egos—and the drama of their feud.

MARK SEGAL AND MALCOLM LAZIN were—outwardly, at least—friends for a time. In 1990, at a party given by Segal’s political fund-raising organization, Lazin gave the keynote speech, which many considered his public “coming out.” (Lazin claims to have no recollection of the event.) Most people date the pair’s rift to 1999, when they wound up on opposite sides of the first Street-Katz mayoral contest.

That election was particularly meaningful for Philadelphia’s gay community. In an odd turn, Democrat Street staunchly opposed granting benefits to same-sex partners of city employees; it was Republican Katz who told a deeply personal story about his brother being gay and a victim of the AIDS epidemic, and who supported civil-rights initiatives for sexual minorities. For many in the gay community, including Lazin, the political calculus was basic math: Vote Katz. But Segal seemed to be going through incredible contortions to avoid alienating his powerful Democratic friends. So one day in October, shortly after opening a copy of the PGN, Malcolm Lazin suffered a complete meltdown, an accumulation of perceived slights having simply worn him out.

In a state of pique, the old prosecutor went to his computer keyboard and banged out a case not against John Street, but against Mark Segal. After typing a litany of grievances—subtle attempts on the paper’s part, he thought, to throw the election toward Street—Lazin punched out the words he says he still regrets.

“The only thing missing [from this week’s PGN],” he wrote, “was an editorial cartoon with a naked Mark Segal being penetrated by John Street with [then-editor] Patti Tihey on all fours sucking Mark’s genitalia while Fran Rafferty watched and observed, ‘Mark, you fuckin’ faggot.’”

Lazin addressed the e-mail to six people in the Katz campaign, then fatefully hit SEND. And predictably, that hateful diatribe eventually found its way to Mark Segal. Lazin apologized, but Segal swore he’d never speak to him again. Twelve years later, the mainstream media has largely been satisfied with this narrative of the rift. But the truth is more complicated.

For years, Segal had welcomed Lazin to the annual Christmas party at his home, a coveted invite at which partygoers once got to hear Ed and Midge Rendell belt out “The 12 Days of Christmas.” Then suddenly, in 1998, Lazin didn’t get an invitation. And it got worse. The Philadelphia Weekly reported that when Segal heard State Representative Dwight Evans was throwing $25,000 to Lazin’s early incarnation of the Equality Forum, he made phone calls requesting, without success, that the money be diverted to the Gay World Softball Series instead. (Segal vehemently denies this accusation, and Evans backs him up. Kevin Vaughan, then head of the human relations commission, who had been facilitating discussions about money for PrideFest, says it happened just the way the Weekly reported it.)

The story has long been told that Lazin spent much of 1999, well before he ever sent that infamous e-mail, predicting he would be “the Mark Segal of the Katz administration.” And after the e-mail debacle, there was more. The same Weekly piece reported that Lazin had encouraged that newspaper’s publisher to start competing directly with Segal’s PGN. In 2006, Lazin denied rumors that he was behind the website PGN Watch, which chronicled all of Segal’s foibles, real and perceived, from his personal vainglory to his typos. Lazin still claims never to have been on the website.