The University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication will host Gay Storytelling Started Here: Memories of Randy Shilts on Jan. 25 to honor alumnus Randy Shilts, BS ’77, on the 30th anniversary of the publication of his best-selling book, “And the Band Played On: Politics, People and the AIDS Epidemic.”
Shilts, who worked for The Advocate and the San Francisco Chronicle in the 1980s, was the first openly gay beat reporter for a major newspaper and the first journalist to cover the AIDS crisis full time. His work culminated in “And the Band Played On,” which spent five weeks on the New York Times best-seller list and later became an award-winning movie produced by HBO.
Graham Kislingbury, BS ’75, a retired editor of The Albany Democrat-Herald and Mid-Valley Newspapers, will headline the event with memories from his days working alongside Shilts on The Oregon Daily Emerald.
“We’ve have many great journalists who have gone through the UO School of Journalism and Communication over the past century. I consider Randy to be the greatest,” said Kislingbury, another alumnus of the UO SOJC. “I had followed Randy’s career from afar and was saddened by his death in 1994. So I made a new year’s resolution for 2015 — my first year of retirement — to buy and read all three of Randy’s books. After reading those outstanding books, I felt compelled to tell a story about this prolific journalist.”
Shilts was both revered and criticized for his work, which was controversial in newsrooms across the United States and in the LGBTQ community. Some topics of contention included Shilts’ reporting on the risks of public bathhouses and his outing of public figures.
Shilts contracted the HIV virus in 1987, which developed into AIDS in 1992. He passed away from the disease on Feb. 17, 1994, at the age of 42. His legacy, however, made a direct impact on the spread of HIV/AIDS and has inspired a new generation of investigative reporters to dig deeper into social problems.
Shilts, who was one of the first inductees of the NLGJA: The Association for LGBTQ Journalists’ Hall of Fame, has been a longtime role model for LGBTQ journalists.
“When Graham spoke to my journalism class about Randy last spring, his message really connected with my students,” said Bethay Grace Howe, a UO SOJC PhD student and president of the UO chapter of the NLGJA. “In an age of growing LGBTQ equality, I think the world of intolerance and its role in the AIDS crisis that he described was somewhat surreal to them. However, with the changes in the political and cultural environment we’ve seen across the nation in the past year, I think this event marks something entirely different than I ever expected. Instead of just being a story about the past, it’s also a warning about a future of intolerance that many people are worried is coming to pass.”
According to Howe, this event marks the first in an ongoing series showcasing the UO SOJC’s renewed commitment to diversity.
Gay Storytelling Started Here: Memories of Randy Shilts, which will also feature remarks from UO SOJC faculty, will take place on Jan. 25, 6-8 p.m., in the Ford Alumni Center Ballroom on the UO campus. The event is free and open to the public.