Tuesday, October 02, 2012

LGBT History: Iowa & Randy Shilts

Gay and lesbian voices from Iowa, or related to our state, almost always (until recently) have been edited out or the nature of the speakers obscured. Since October is LGBT History Month, this is a small attempt to highlight a few of these men and women of accomplishment with Iowa ties who have spoken through literature, media, the arts and other ways. From Grant Wood to Kittredge Cherry, there's no logic to the selection or the order --- other than my interest. Some ties are modest --- birth in Iowa or a degree from an Iowa college or university; others involve most of a lifetime invested here.

RANDY SHILTS: Pioneering gay journalist and acclaimed author. Birth in Iowa doth not necessarily an Iowan make, but it's enough to stake a claim on. Born August 8, 1951, in Davenport, Randy Shilts grew up in Aurora, Illinois. He majored in journalism at the University of Oregon and came out there at age 20, going so far as to run for student office using the slogan, "Come out for Shilts." Although an honors graduate, he found it difficult to find employment because of his sexual orientation and worked as a freelance reporter until hired as a national correspondent by the San Francisco Chronicle in 1981. He became the first openly gay reporter with a gay beat in the mainstream press. Shilts' date of hire corresponded with the first clinical observance of AIDS and his reporting on the emerging pandemic for The Chronicle was widely acclaimed.

His first book, "The Life and Times of Harvey Milk," a biography of the iconic gay San Francisco political activist assassinated in 1978, was published in 1982. He went on to write the best-selling "And the Band Played On: Politics, People and the AIDS Epidemic" in 1987. This was the first major book about AIDS and later was adapted into an Emmy Award-winning film. His final book was "Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the U.S. Military: Vietnam to the Persian Gulf," published in 1993.

Diagnosed as HIV positive in 1987, Shilts died at age 42 on Feb. 17, 1994, at his acreage near Guerneville, Califonria, survived by his partner, Barry Barbieri, mother and five brothers. He is buried in Redwood Memorial Gardens, Guerneville.

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