On This Gay Day: In 1994 author Randy Shilts passed away

Author Randy Shilts was known as the first openly gay journalist

Randy Shilts died on this day in 1994, the author is best known for his 1987 book And The Band Played On which documented the early days of the AIDS epidemic.

Shilts studied journalism and the University of Oregon and came out while he working on the student newspaper. Once he graduated he found it difficult to gain employment as a journalists due to the homophobia of the mid-1970’s.

He worked as freelance journalist and wrote for The Advocate, in 1981 hew became a national correspondent for the San Francisco Chronicle. Shilts was the first reporter hired by a mainstream newspaper to specifically cover LGBTIQ+ news.

He work at for the newspaper largely focussed on the political and social ramifications of the AIDS crisis. Shilts published three well known books,  The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk was published in 1982 and recounted the life of the assassinated politician.

And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic came out in 1987 and went on to sell hundreds of thousands of copies and be translated into several languages. It was adapted into a film in 1993 with an all-star cast.

Shilts’ final book was completed shortly before his death.  Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the US Military from Vietnam to the Persian Gulf investigated the discriminatory policy of firing LGBT people from the military.

Shilts often courted controversy within the queer community, he was a vocal supporter of the decision to close saunas and bathhouses in San Francisco to stop the spread of HIV, and was opposed to outing closeted prominent people – even if they had a history of being opposed to gay rights.

The author refused to find out his own HIV status while writing And The Band Played On, out of fear it would influence his writing. After the book was completed he discovered he was HIV positive.

He died in 1994 at his ranch in California, and was survived by his partner Barry Barbieri, his mother and brothers. The couple had a commitment ceremony the year before he died.

In June 2019, Shilts was one of the inaugural fifty American “pioneers, trailblazers, and heroes” inducted on the National LGBTQ Wall of Honor within the Stonewall National Monument in New York.

OIP Staff, this post was first published on 17th February 2020.

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