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

Lazin’s run for City Council reignited the feud. According to Queertimes Weekly, an online gay news site that covers Philly and beyond, Segal asked Micah Mahjoubian, co-chair of the Liberty City (LGBT) Democratic Club, to challenge Lazin’s nominating petitions; Mahjoubian did. Those petitions evidently wound up at the center of a legal challenge filed by right-wing activist Adam Taxin that questioned the validity of the signatures Lazin had gathered. Lazin won the ensuing court fight, but his campaign was plagued by Taxin and other far-right activists who complained, loudly, that he was a RINO—Republican in Name Only—and criticized him for building his candidacy around his sexuality. According to Queertimes, Taxin cc’d his e-mail responses to the site’s questions to … Mark Segal. Since the primary, Segal has written in his PGN column that Lazin lost because he ran a “closet campaign.”

Segal has declined to comment about any of these allegations to anyone, including me. Mahjoubian didn’t return my phone calls requesting an interview. Lazin tries to brush the whole episode off, claiming he doesn’t believe anything Segal did contributed to his 250-vote loss. Of the two, Lazin seems far more willing to let go of the fight. “Mark is shadowboxing,” he says. “He’s throwing punches, but I’m not.” The real problem for Segal is that he stood on the wrong side of history. Lazin (along with Sherrie Cohen, who also lost) had a real shot to be the city’s first openly gay elected councilperson. Now, all Segal can do is gloat.

“It’s a shame,” says Autumn Bayles, a lesbian and senior VP at Tasty Baking Co. “They’re both important members of our community. And their bad relationship, to some degree, weakens all of us.”

IN RESPONSE TO all this—the feud and the furious attempts at self-aggrandizement—the gay community would like to see some changes made. “I think it is time to share the stage,” says Nurit Shein, executive director of Mazzoni Center, a longtime health provider to Philadelphia’s gay community. “I think that when Mark and Malcolm get a call from the media, they need to refer reporters to people who have the appropriate expertise. There are now LGBT people involved in every walk of life here.”

The gay community is ready for its own close-up. And that’s in no small measure due to the hard work of Mark Segal and Malcolm Lazin, who helped forge an independent populace that today admires its elders’ accomplishments but has grown weary of their excesses. And there is no greater example of that excess than the Feud That Never Ends. “I’d like to get them into a room together,” admits Chris Bartlett, the William Way Center’s executive director. “And not let them out until they’re talking again. Because I worry their feud keeps us from accomplishing all that we might.”

“I think it can be a problem when people aren’t sure which one to approach,” adds marketing executive and founder of the Philadelphia Gay Tourism Caucus Tami Sortman. “If you’re looking for some kind of assistance or push with a project from one of them, you don’t want to risk offending the other. So you feel like you have to be extra-careful in how you go about it. I guess you could compare it to having your parents divorce and not be able to get along.”

The gay community is, understandably, tired of this whole subject. And before Segal came to our lunch, he tried making demands that coverage of the feud run no longer than a single sentence in this story. “It’s a blip,” he said, “in my 42-year career.”

The crazy thing is, he’s right.

His feud with Lazin is a blip. And in the fullness of time, when the final stories are written about Malcolm Lazin and Mark Segal, their inability to get along will likely merit small mention. Any obituary for these men will instead offer up the gratitude of an entire city for all they’ve done: To Mark Segal and Malcolm Lazin, for being out when many did not dare, for putting a face on a segment of the population hidden for far too long.

But there’s a flaw in this analysis—neither Segal nor Lazin is dead. And while Malcolm Lazin says, “I’m willing to meet Mark and talk anytime,” Segal is unequivocal, refusing even to comment on Lazin’s Equality Forum. “No,” he says, visibly shuddering down into his seat. “Just—no. I won’t.”

In the end, the impasse seems to be blocking both men from truly enjoying the fruits of their labors, from establishing a right relationship to the city they helped forge—and from using what would be considerable collective political clout for the fights still ahead. “It’s hard to say what they might accomplish together,” says Bartlett. “But I would like to see it.”