The Daily Agenda for Thursday, December 19
December 19th, 2013
Michelangelo Signorile: 1960. After graduating with a degree in journalism at at Syracuse University, the Brooklyn native returned to New York where he got his first job at a public relations firm which specialized in placing stories about their entertainment clients in gossip columns. That naturally meant that he was collecting and trading in gossip, which is where he noticed the double standard in how the media glamorized the heterosexuality of celebrities while maintaining a veil of silence around anything that might be remotely gay. But it wasn’t until his friends began dying in the early years of the AIDS crisis that he began to draw a line from gay invisibility to the ease with which media and public officials could turn a blind eye on what was happening. He became an activist in 1988 when he joined ACT UP, which led to his arrest during a speech by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later to become Pope Benedict XVI) who was the Vatican’s point man on Catholic orthodoxy and the author of papers against homosexuality and against condom use to prevent the spread of AIDS. Signorile had gone simply to watch the protesters, but as he heard the Cardinal speak, he thought of the homophobia he had experienced growing up in the church, and he couldn’t contain himself. As he wrote later in Queer In America: Sex, The Media, and the Closets of Power:
Suddenly, I jumped up on one of the marble platforms, and looking down, I addressed the entire congregation in the loudest voice I could. My voice rang out as if it were amplified. I pointed at Ratzinger and shouted, “He is no man of God!” The shocked faces of the assembled Catholics turned to the back of the room to look at me as I continued: “He is no man of God—he is the devil!’”
So yeah, he was arrested, and another gay rights activist was born.
Signorile is considered the pioneer of the controversial act of outing public figures. He was the co-founding editor of OutWeek, where, in a weekly column called “Gossip Watch,” a watch column of the city’s gossip columns, he railed against the media’s double standard on how they treated gay and straight public figures, and he argued that this double standard drove the gay community to invisibility in the midst of an growing health catastrophe. He outed Hollywood producer David Geffen, who was promoting Guns ‘N’ Roses and comedian Andrew Dice Clay, two acts which were attacked for crude anti-gay lyrics and “jokes” about the AIDS crisis. He also outed gossup columnist Liz Smith and publishing tycoon Malcolm Forbes. It was actually Time magazine which coined the term “outing”, but Signorile always considered the term itself biased. He preferred to call what he did “reporting,” and insisted that it was no different from the same kind of reporting that media outlets routinely do with straight people.
Signorile later worked at the Advocate and Out magazines, and he also wrote columns for Gay.com. In 2000 he began working in internet radio, and that led to hosting The Michelangelo Signorile Show on SiriusXM OutQ beginning in 2003. This past year, his program moved to a broader audience on SiriusXM’s Progress 127, from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. EST. He has written three other books, including Life Outside: The Signorile Report on Gay Men and Hitting Hard, a collection of essays and columns. His 1996 book, Outing Yourself: How to Come Out as Lesbian or Gay to Your Family, Friends and Coworkers was an exceptionally valuable book to me as I was beginning my own journey of coming out.
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And feel free to consider this your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?