What Happens When You Let Gay Philly Activists Into the White House [UPDATED]

They pose for pics giving Ronald Reagan’s portrait the finger.

Last Friday, an attaché of important gay people from Philadelphia made a trip to Washington D.C. as invited guests of President Barack Obama for the White House’s first-ever gay pride reception. There, they danced to the sounds of a Marine Corps band; they dined on crab cakes and canapés; they hand-delivered letters from concerned citizens like this 18-year old who has had four people close to him gunned down, and noted rhyming raconteur CA Conrad; and some of them took advantage of photo opportunities to give the late President Ronald Reagan the middle finger.

“It’s not a gesture that I would use in the White House when representing our city and our community,” opines Philadelphia Gay News publisher Mark Segal (center), who opted for a sarcastic thumbs-up pose in front of the portrait of George W. Bush over the more vulgar one demonstrated by his Reagan-loathing peers, Matthew “Matty” Hart (left), and self-taught photographer turned toast-of-the-town Zoe Strauss (right).

“I have friends who work in that building,” Segal explains. “I’m not going to do something that could embarrass them or that could somehow damage a campaign that is so important. ‘Be on your best behavior,’ my staff told me.’ I think they know me too well.”

This wasn’t Segal’s first trip to the White House, having twice visited during Bill Clinton’s gay-friendly tenure. “One of the things on my bucket list was to dance with my boyfriend at the White House,” remarks Segal.”And this is the second time I got to do it. We come up to the main foyer, and what do they play? Barbra Streisand. ‘The Way We Were.’ And I thought, Are they going to play nothing but Barbra, Bette and Lady Gaga? I was waiting for ‘Over the Rainbow.’ I mean, this is the Marine band!” Clearly, Segal, a dedicated activist but also an astute political hobnobber, wants to be invited back.

But his counterparts couldn’t seem to care less. Hart posted his photo on Facebook with the caption, “Fuck Reagan.” Strauss simply posted hers without commentary. After all, the murderous facial expression and double-barreled bird-flipping seem to speak for themselves. Comments ranged from “you forgot to add with a chainsaw” on Hart’s “Fuck Reagan” note, to my personal favorite, “star wars … up yours,” on Strauss’s.

Strauss, who is also seen here, kissing her partner beneath the Reagan portrait, declined to comment for this story (“I’m keeping out of the press!” she texted me), but made crystal clear her position on Reagan by posting on Facebook a long list of things that happened under his watch, including the Supreme Court’s Bowers v. Hardwick decision, upholding the constitutionality of Georgia’s anti-sodomy law, the Iran-Contra affair and the invasion of Grenada.

Additionally, Strauss posted Reagan’s memorable statement on LGBT rights from the 1980 campaign trail: “My criticism is that [the gay movement] isn’t just asking for civil rights; it’s asking for recognition and acceptance of an alternative lifestyle which I do not believe society can condone, nor can I.”

“Yeah, fuck Reagan,” reiterates Hart one week after the reception. “Ronald Reagan has blood on his hands. The man was in the White House as AIDS exploded, and he was happy to see plenty of gay men and queer people die. He was a murderous fool, and I have no problem saying so. Don’t invite me back. I don’t care.”

Switching gears, Hart describes the reception as “fantastic” and notes that the White House staff seemed “giddy.” “A lot of work had to happen to make this reception politically viable and possible,” he observes. “There were many service members there. I met a woman with lots of medals, an important military person, who was with her partner. And all her life, she had to be in the closet—until now. And I met a couple from Tennessee in their mid-50s, two men who have been in a relationship for 22 years and run an LGBT youth program. They could barely speak with their emotions. They kept saying, All through grade school and high school, people were telling us we’re gonna burn in hell. And here we are honored guests of Obama.

Referring to the reception and not to his photo op, Hart adds, “It was just a gesture, but a very powerful one.” Speaking of powerful gestures, Hart shot portions of the video below, which features, among other things, Segal dancing to the Marine Corps band and a wedding proposal between a female-to-male transgendered person (killer suit!) and a biological woman.

“And so is it correct to refer to this as a transgendered wedding proposal?” I asked Hart this morning, via Facebook chat, naturally. “2012 is so confusing!” His reply: “I think this is the proposal of our time. It is not so easy to categorize. Liberating.”

UPDATE 6/22 9:30 p.m.: According to Fox News, the White House has issued a statement rebuking some of the behavior described in this article: “While the White House does not control the conduct of guests at receptions, we certainly expect that all attendees conduct themselves in a respectful manner. Most all do. These individuals clearly did not. Behavior like this doesn’t belong anywhere, least of all in the White House.”

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