1951 - 1994

“I can only answer that I tried to tell the truth and, if not be objective, at least be fair; history is not served when reporters prize trepidation and propriety over the robust journalistic duty to tell the whole story.”

– Randy Shilts

In 1981 Randy Shilts was hired by ‘The San Francisco Chronicle’ to work as a reporter covering gay politics, making him the first full-time openly gay journalist in the U.S. mainstream press. As one of the earliest people in the media to recognize the importance of AIDS as a national issue, Shilts worked to bring the epidemic to the attention of the American public. He authored three landmark books. The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk (1982) profiled the celebrated San Francisco city supervisor. His 1987 classic, And The Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic (1980-1985), was a comprehensive and compelling study of AIDS; it remained on ‘The New York Times’ bestseller list for five weeks and was successfully adapted into an award-winning HBO docudrama. Although he had been tested for HIV earlier, Shilts postponed learning the results out of fear the knowledge would compromise his objectivity. He was informed he had tested positive for the virus the day he wrote the final page of the book. Throughout his career Shilts was a controversial figure in San Francisco’s gay community – first for suggesting that the city’s bathhouses be closed, and later for his stance against outing. His final work, Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the U.S. Military from Vietnam to the Persian Gulf (1993), examined discrimination against gays and lesbians in the military. Compiled from over one thousand interviews, the book was a striking indictment of the armed forces during the dawn of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Shilts completed the last chapter of the book from his hospital bed. His numerous awards and honors include the Outstanding Author Award from the American Society of Journalists and Authors (1988) and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalist’s Association (1993). While planning a fourth book examining homosexuality in the Roman Catholic Church, Randy Shilts died of an AIDS-related illness on February 17, 1994, at the age of 42. He remains one of the most influential authors of the modern LGBT era.


Gender Male

Sexual Orientation Gay

Gender Identity Cisgender

Ethnicity Caucasian/White

Nations Affiliated United States

Era/Epoch AIDS Era (1980-present) Information Age (1970-present)

Field(s) of Contribution



Commemorations & Honors

NLGJA Randy Shilts Award for LGBTQ Coverage Named After Him

Panel Featured on the NAMES Project AIDS Quilt

American Society of Journalists and Authors Outstanding Author Award (1988)

NLGJA Hall of Fame Inductee (2005)

Inaugural San Francisco Rainbow Honor Walk Honoree (2014)

National LGBTQ Wall of Honor at the Stonewall National Monument Inductee (2019)


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Original Biography Author
Owen Keehnen
Biography Edited By
Victor Salvo
Resources Coordination
Carrie Maxwell