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NLGJA continues to celebrate LGBT history month: Randy Shilts

Randy Shilts was among the first to cover HIV and AIDS.
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National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) is celebrating LGBT History Month in October with a weekly profile of individuals who have made contributions to advancing NLGJA's mission of promoting fair and accurate coverage of LGBTQ issues and people. 

Today, NLGJA celebrates LGBTQ pioneer Randy Shilts, who was inducted into NLGJA's LGBT Journalists Hall of Fame in 2005.

He is also the namesake of NLGJA's Randy Shilts Award for LGBT Coverage.

Randy Shilts is known within the LGBTQ community as a pioneer.

As a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle and The Advocate, Shilts was among the first to cover HIV and AIDS, the illness that would eventually lead to his death at 42 years old.

His reporting helped to dismiss America’s prejudice and denial about the epidemic that has now claimed more than half a million lives in the United States alone.

“Randy Shilts paved the way for so many of us, covering gay issues when news organizations often resisted that,” said Frank Bruni, recipient of the 2016 NLGJA Randy Shilts Award for LGBT Coverage. “His work certainly inspired me, so I’m hugely flattered–and genuinely grateful–to receive this honor.”

Shilts was the author of the acclaimed books “The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk” and “And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic”.

His books helped to bring gay lives to the forefront of the American consciousness, first through Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected public official in California, and then through the stories of those ravaged by HIV and AIDS.

Unlike some of his gay contemporaries, Shilts did not curb words.

He wrote about unsafe sex in gay bathhouses with the same passion that he brought to his critical coverage of lawmakers and scientists who rejected the seriousness of AIDS.

Although Shilts was criticized for his work by some in the community, his assistant and longtime friend Linda Alband said, “One of the big criticisms leveled at Randy is that he was an assimilationist. But he chose to write about gay issues for the mainstream precisely because he wanted other people to know what it was like to be gay. If they didn’t know, how were things going to change?”

Shilts’s final book, “Conduct Unbecoming: Lesbians and Gays in the U.S. Military,” revealed anti-gay attitudes and policies in the armed forces. Shilts hoped discrimination against LGBT people in the military would be eliminated, however, President Bill Clinton signed the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in 1993, prohibiting active military personnel from disclosing their sexual orientation.

In fear of having his diagnosis affect his work, Shilts kept his illness private until 1993. In an interview Shilts said, “Every gay writer who tests positive ends up being an AIDS activist. I wanted to keep on being a reporter.” Shilts died in 1994 at his home in Guerneville, CA. He was survived by his partner Barry Barbieri and their golden retriever, Dashiel. Shilts left his personal archive and papers to the San Francisco Public Library.

NLGJA is proud to count Randy Shilts among the members of its LGBT Journalists Hall of Fame.

Sidebar image courtesy of lgbthistorymonth.com

About NLGJA:

Founded in 1990, NLGJA is an organization of journalists, media professionals, educators and students working from within the news industry to foster fair and accurate coverage of LGBT issues. NLGJA opposes all forms of workplace bias and provides professional development to its members.