The name Randy Shilts is inextricably linked with the modern AIDS epidemic. As a reporter for The Advocate and the San Francisco Chronicle and as the author of the 1987 book “And the Band Played On,” Randy spent the bulk of his career covering the disease that, sadly, took him from us at the young age of 42. His reporting helped dispel, if not end, America’s prejudice and denial about this plague that has now claimed more half a million lives in the United States alone.
Like the gay author/activist Larry Kramer, Randy did not mince words. He wrote about unsafe sex in gay bathhouses with the same fervor that he brought to his critical coverage of lawmakers and scientists who dismissed the seriousness of AIDS. In his note to his biography of the late San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, Randy wrote: “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’s final book, “Conduct Unbecoming: Lesbians and Gays in the U.S. Military,” exposed anti-gay attitudes and policies in the armed forces. Randy had hoped to see the ban on gays in the military lifted. Instead, President Bill Clinton in 1993 signed the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that allows gays to serve only if they do not disclose their sexual orientation.
In his free time, Randy loved spending time at his home in Guerneville, Calif., with his partner, Barry Barbieri, and their golden retriever, Dashiel. Randy died in 1994. Since then, new medicines have reduced the disease’s toll, but an estimated 1 million Americans are infected with HIV.