Monday, August 8, 2016

Honoring Randy

The Rainbow Honor Walk in San Francisco's Castro district, honors deceased LGBT luminaries, and includes this tribute to Randy Shilts, who would have turned 65 today. Randy, whom I have written about several times before, was one of the very first people I met when I moved to San Francisco. He touched many lives, and I am convinced that he really made a difference in this world.

When I first met Randy, he worked at KQED, San Francisco's public television station. In those days, that station produced a nightly news program and a national magazine (I think it was Time), wrote that Randy Shilts was the first openly gay television reporter. Having never been in the closet, I challenged that title. All of my tv and radio co-workers had known I was gay. It was never an issue. Anyway, when I mentioned that to Randy at our first meeting, we both chuckled and expressed hope that such designations would someday disappear. He wanted to be known as a good reporter, not simply the gay one. Belva Davis, who had anchored those KQED newscasts, devotes a lot of space to Randy in her book Never in My Wildest Dreams: A Black Woman's Life in Journalism.

After his television work, Randy was hired by The San Francisco Chronicle, but became better known outside the Bay Area as an author. Three books (and a fourth planned one) showed that Randy could tackle difficult subjects. Those books are The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk; And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic (which was made into a tv movie); and Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the U.S. Military.

I don't want to give the wrong impression.  Randy Shilts and I never became close friends.  We would see each other occasionally and say hi, but I was always aware of his contributions.  His death, especially at a very young age, brought be great sadness.  These days, when I go back to visit San Francisco, I always visit The Castro, and stop at the plaque honoring Randy. By the way, 24 additional plaques will be added later this year honoring other lgbt heroes from our past.

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