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Randy Shilts

AKA Randall Martin Shilts

Born: 8-Aug-1951
Birthplace: Davenport, IA
Died: 17-Feb-1994
Location of death: Guerneville, CA
Cause of death: AIDS
Remains: Buried, Redwood Memorial Gardens, Guerneville, CA

Gender: Male
Religion: Methodist
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Gay
Occupation: Journalist, Author

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Chronicler of AIDS, biographer of Harvey Milk

Randy Shilts was the first openly gay reporter at a mainstream metropolitan newspaper, and the author of three landmark books: the biography of his assassinated friend Harvey Milk, The Mayor of Castro Street; the definitive account of the early years of the battle against AIDS, And the Band Played On; and the study of the US military's "Stalinesque" discrimination against gay soldiers, Conduct Unbecoming.

Shilts grew up in Aurora, Illinois, where as a young man he organized a local chapter of the conservative/libertarian group Young Americans for Freedom. Attending college in Oregon, he came out as gay at 19 years of age in 1971, and became a leader in the newly-formed Gay People's Alliance. After earning a degree in journalism he went to work to The Advocate, and later covered San Francisco news on local radio, television, and in the pages of the San Francisco Chronicle. He covered the first outbreaks of the new "gay cancer", first called Gay-Related Immune Deficiency (GRID) but now knows as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). As the pandemic developed, Shilts became the Chronicle's lead reporter on the disease, and battled editors over both the explicit language necessary for covering AIDS and the paper's early tendency to hide his reports deep in the Chronicle's inner pages.

By the time AIDS made the front pages, Shilts had criticized both the Reagan administration and some prominent gay groups for effectively pretending AIDS did not exist. He was called "a gay Uncle Tom" for reporting on common but dangerous sex practices in the city's infamous bathhouses, but his call for safer sex practices has since come to be accepted as simply common sense. A frequent patron of the bathhouses himself before the danger was understood, Shilts was only 42 when he died of AIDS on 17 February 1994. He wrote the last chapters of his third book from his hospital bed, and in a pre-publication interview told the New York Times, "HIV is certainly character-building. It's made me see all of the shallow things we cling to, like ego and vanity. Of course, I'd rather have a few more T-cells and a little less character."

Father: Bud Shilts (prefabricated housing salesman)
Mother: Norma Shilts (alcoholic)
Mother: Patricia Shilts (stepmother)
Brother: Gary Shilts
Brother: Reed Shilts
Brother: Dennis Shilts
Brother: David Shilts (fetal alcohol syndrome)
Boyfriend: Barry Barbieri (b. circa 1970, comm. 31-May-1993)

    High School: West Aurora High School, Aurora, IL (1969)
    University: BS Journalism, University of Oregon (1975)

    Young Americans for Freedom
    The Advocate (reporter, 1974-77)
    KQED Radio (reporter, 1977-79)
    KTVU-TV (reporter, 1979-81)
    The San Francisco Chronicle (reporter, 1981-93)

Author of books:
The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk (1982, biography)
And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic (1987, social studies)
Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the U.S. Military (1993, social studies)


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