Randy Shilts (1951-1994)

(Part of photo by James D, Wilson.)

I started this work in 1986, taking classes to become an AIDS volunteer, but I soon knew I wanted to write about it. Ten years earlier I had published a lay persons book about dying patients in a hospital in Stockholm, and at a hospice in England, and I hoped to do something similar.

In 1988 I bought ”And the Band Played on: Politics, People, and the AIIDS Epidemic”, by Randy Shilts. He was at a big conference on HIV/AIDS in Stockholm, and he signed my book. However it is so well used that it is in pieces, so I can’t find that page. But I know it is somewhere.

I want to write about Randy Shilts, because he’s been such an inspiration to me.

I live in Sweden, and at that time not much was written about HIV/AIDS. I needed information and encouragement, and found it in his book, and I have only had to lay my hand on it, to continue working. And I still do.

Randy Shilt grew up in a conservative, religious middle class town in Aurora, Illinois.

He came out as gay in his 20s and moved to San Francisco, after having studied in Oregon and graduated with a journalism degree in 1975. He eventually started working at The Advocate, ”the world’s leading source of LGBT news” as it says on the Internet.

When Harvey Milk and George Moscone had been murdered in November 1978, he wrote, ”The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk ”, that was published in 1982.

In connection with the publication of the book, he was hired by San Francisco Chronicle, as the first openly gay full time journalist in the American press to cover gay life, LGBT issues.                                                              This happened around the time when the first reports had come about a mysterious epidemic that seemed to specifically strike homosexual men.

Randy Shilts followed it all closely, and eventually it resulted in the book ”And the Band Played On: Politics, People and the AIDS Epidemic”, that was published in 1987.

Randy Shilts had taken the HIV test the year before, but did not want to know the answer – he did not want it to affect his writing. But when he had sent in the last page of the manuscript, he asked his doctor for the result, and it turned out to be positive.

A bit into the 1990s, he became very ill, but managed to write his third and final book, ”Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the US Military”, published in 1993. (Almost 800 pages.) He finished the work on that book while in the hospital with a collapsed lung.

As his other books, it became a great success.

In a page about him I just saw that he held a civil commitment ceremony with his partner Barry Barbieri on Memorial Day, May 29th, 1993.

He died in February 1994, and was hailed as one of the greatest journalist of his time.

However I found out through the late Keith Griffith that the Westboro Baptist Church was planning to picket his funeral. And so they did, they came with signs that said ”Shilts in Hell”, and ”God Hates Fags” etcetera.

I have articles about Randy Shilts in Swedish, and one is from May 1994 in connection with the launching of the film ”And the Band Played On”, with actors who all worked for free, like Richard Gere, Alan Alda, Anjelica Huston, Steve Martin, Phil Collins, Lily Tomlin, Matthew Modine, sir Ian McKellen, Glenne Headly and others.

Randy Shilts is buried at Redwood Memorial Gardens in Guerneville, California.

His motto was: When in doubt, always tell the truth.