Rizzo, Philadelphia Gay News and the BBC
The British Broadcasting Company (BBC) is the world's largest broadcaster. It began in 1922 and has a stellar record for its journalism, both news and its fascinating documentaries, which at times seem to be pigeonholed to the most under-looked parts of humanity.
Many years ago, a news staffer at Philadeelphia Gay News (PGN), Shilpa Mehta, came into my office and asked if it was OK that she was filmed in the office for a documentary for BBC. I asked what the subject matter was and she responded something to the effect of: "They're doing a film on women from India who grew up in Great Britain who are now lesbians living in the United States." I approved, but it sounded oh-so specifically British and amusing to me that I quickly forgot about it. Years later, while traveling in Thailand, I turned on the TV in my hotel room and saw something very strange: My office on the screen. There was Shilpa and that documentary. That was my first experience with the BBC.
On a trip to London in 1991, I arrived in my hotel and decided to put on BBC News and heard the following: "Flamboyant and controversial American Mayor Frank Rizzo has died during his campaign to return to office." At the end of the story was the line, "A local reporter once asked him what his enemies would want on his grave stone, and Rizzo replied, 'He's dead, he's really dead.'" That piqued my interest, since I was that very reporter and that quoted interview was for PGN.
I knew Rizzo, and once again he is making headlines. His statue, which sits in front of a government building, is being compared to all those confederate statues, including Robert E. Lee, a traitor to the United States. Even though Rizzo was controversial, and even news organizations likethe BBC knew that, he didn't betray his country like Lee did. He was a Nixonian law-and-order kind of guy.
So here's my suggestion on what to do with Rizzo. Keeping his statue where it currently sits seems impractical and wrong. Do other mayors have such a prominent, visible place in the city? No. But hey, to be fair, if you wish to keep him there, put a statue of former Mayor Wilson Goode or John Street alongside him.
The reality is that the statue should be moved to a place that's appropriate and where it would be appreciated. Outside the new police headquarters? South Philly? The point is that Philadelphians need to sit down and talk and reach a mutual understanding. It's really not that difficult. We're not going to destroy the statue since that's destroying history. It's better to explain history than destroy it. There are other more current issues on our agenda now so I suggest that both sides do this as quickly as possible. We need to concentrate on more pressing, present dangers. Let the past live in BBC documentaries and move on to tackle current dangers.
Mark Segal, PGN publisher, is the nation's most-award-winning commentator in LGBT media. His recently published memoir, "And Then I Danced," is available on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble or at your favorite bookseller.