Tag Archives: Vito Russo

Gay Activist and Hero Vito Russo – Vito Remembered: “Why We Fight.”

Vito Russo (July 11, 1946 – November 7, 1990),was a gay activist, film historian, author, and the co-founder of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). Vito Russo was a true activist and a gay American hero.  He fought through words and actions, in literature and in the streets and he kept fighting even up until the very end.

Russo participated in every significant milestone in the gay-liberation movement: the dark days of pre-Stonewall invisibility, the Stonewall rebellion and its aftermath, and the AIDS crisis of the 1980’s and the formation of ACT UP.

Vito Russo was born on July 11, 1946 and  grew up in East Harlem. As a young boy, he would sneak into Manhattan to go to the movies. From an early age, Russo knew he was “different.” A cousin remembers him always talking about Rock Hudson rather than Ava Gardner. 

After graduating from New York University, Russo joined the Gay Activists Alliance. Vito threw himself into gay activism with zest and became an architect of the media-grabbing “zaps” that made headlines for GAA and helped break the cultural silence about homosexuality. He quickly became one of GAA’s stars, becoming a fiery speaker. In the early 1970’s, he started research for “The Celluloid Closet”, which entailed watching hundreds of films that included gay content and stereotypes. What originated as a lecture with film clips became one of the most informative books about gay people and pop culture. 

During the AIDS epidemic Vito watched the world he loved crumble beneath his feet. Vito received his AIDS diagnosis in 1985 and that same year outraged by the media’s inadequate and inaccurate coverage of the epidemic which was well into its first decade with thousands already dead, Russo co-founded GLAAD, an organization that at which was to monitored LGBT news and representation in the media. An organization which has sadly now forgotten its co-founders original mission. 

In 1986, Russo’s life was shattered when he lost his longtime partner, Jeffrey Sevcik, to AIDS. 

At the New York State Capitol in Albany in 1988 Russo gave his history-making activism speech. “Why We Fight”  (posted below) before a crowd of  hundreds’of angry ACT UP demonstrators.

In 1990 Vito Russo spent a year in California at the University of California, Santa Cruz, teaching a class, also entitled “The Celluloid Closet”.

Vito passed away from of AIDS-related complications that same year on November 7th. 1990 at the age of 44.

Vito Russo’s death epitomized how AIDS, that grimmest of reapers, had wiped out a whole generation of gay liberation’s best and brightest militants throughout the 1980’s.

His life’s work was posthumously brought to television in the 1996 HBO documentary film The Celluloid Closet, co-executive produced and narrated by Lily Tomlin. 

“Why We Fight”

A friend of mine in New York City has a half-fare transit card, which means that you get on buses and subways for half price. And the other day, when he showed his card to the token attendant, the attendant asked what his disability was and he said, I have AIDS. And the attendant said, no you don’t, if you had AIDS, you’d be home dying. And so, I wanted to speak out today as a person with AIDS who is not dying.

You know, for the last three years, since I was diagnosed, my family thinks two things about my situation. One, they think I’m going to die, and two, they think that my government is doing absolutely everything in their power to stop that. And they’re wrong, on both counts.

If I’m dying from anything – I’m dying from the fact that not enough rich, white, heterosexual men have gotten AIDS for anybody to give a shit. You know, living with AIDS in this country is like living in the twilight zone. Living with AIDS is like living through a war which is happening only for those people who happen to be in the trenches. Every time a shell explodes, you look around and you discover that you’ve lost more of your friends, but nobody else notices. It isn’t happening to them. They’re walking the streets as though we weren’t living through some sort of nightmare. And only you can hear the screams of the people who are dying and their cries for help. No one else seems to be noticing.

And it’s worse than a war, because during a war people are united in a shared experience. This war has not united us, it’s divided us. It’s separated those of us with AIDS and those of us who fight for people with AIDS from the rest of the population.

Two and a half years ago, I picked up Life Magazine, and I read an editorial which said, “it’s time to pay attention, because this disease is now beginning to strike the rest of us.” It was as if I wasn’t the one holding the magazine in my hand. And since then, nothing has changed to alter the perception that AIDS is not happening to the real people in this country.

It’s not happening to us in the United States, it’s happening to them – to the disposable populations of fags and junkies who deserve what they get. The media tells them that they don’t have to care, because the people who really matter are not in danger. Twice, three times, four times – The New York Times has published editorials saying, don’t panic yet, over AIDS – it still hasn’t entered the general population, and until it does, we don’t have to give a shit.

And the days, and the months, and the years pass by, and they don’t spend those days and nights and months and years trying to figure out how to get hold of the latest experimental drug, and which dose to take it at, and in what combination with other drugs, and from what source? And, how are you going to pay for it? And where are you going to get it? Because it isn’t happening to them, so they don’t give a shit.

And they don’t sit in television studios, surrounded by technicians who are wearing rubber gloves, who won’t put a microphone on you, because it isn’t happening to them, so they don’t give a shit. And they don’t have their houses burned down by bigots and morons. They watch it on the news and they have dinner and they go to bed, because it isn’t happening to them, and they don’t give a shit.

And they don’t spend their waking hours going from hospital room to hospital room, and watching the people that they love die slowly – of neglect and bigotry, because it isn’t happening to them and they don’t have to give a shit. They haven’t been to two funerals a week for the last three or four or five years – so they don’t give a shit, because it’s not happening to them.

And we read on the front page of The New York Times last Saturday that Anthony Fauci now says that all sorts of promising drugs for treatment haven’t even been tested in the last two years because he can’t afford to hire the people to test them. We’re supposed to be grateful that this story has appeared in the newspaper after two years. Nobody wonders why some reporter didn’t dig up that story and print it 18 months ago, before Fauci got dragged before a Congressional hearing .

How many people are dead in the last two years, who might be alive today, if those drugs had been tested more quickly? Reporters all over the country are busy printing government press releases. They don’t give a shit, it isn’t happening to them – meaning that it isn’t happening to people like them – the real people, the world-famous general public we all keep hearing about.

Legionnaire’s Disease was happening to them because it hit people who looked like them, who sounded like them, who were the same color as them. And that fucking story about a couple of dozen people hit the front page of every newspaper and magazine in this country, and it stayed there until that mystery got solved.

All I read in the newspapers tells me that the mainstream, white heterosexual population is not at risk for this disease. All the newspapers I read tell me that IV drug users and homosexuals still account for the overwhelming majority of cases, and a majority of those people at risk.

And can somebody please tell me why every single penny allocated for education and prevention gets spent on ad campaigns that are directed almost exclusively to white, heterosexual teenagers – who they keep telling us are not at risk!

Can somebody tell me why the only television movie ever produced by a major network in this country, about the impact of this disease, is not about the impact of this disease on the man who has AIDS, but of the impact of AIDS on his white, straight, nuclear family? Why, for eight years, every newspaper and magazine in this country has done cover stories on AIDS only when the threat of heterosexual transmission is raised?

Why, for eight years, every single educational film designed for use in high schools has eliminated any gay positive material, before being approved by the Board of Education? Why, for eight years, every single public information pamphlet and videotape distributed by establishment sources has ignored specific homosexual content?

Why is every bus and subway ad I read and every advertisement and every billboard I see in this country specifically not directed at gay men? Don’t believe the lie that the gay community has done its job and done it well and educated its people. The gay community and IV drug users are not all politicized people living in New York and San Francisco. Members of minority populations, including so called sophisticated gay men are abysmally ignorant about AIDS.

If it is true that gay men and IV drug users are the populations at risk for this disease, then we have a right to demand that education and prevention be targeted specifically to these people. And it is not happening. We are being allowed to die, while low risk populations are being panicked – not educated, panicked – into believing that we deserve to die.

Why are we here together today? We’re here because it is happening to us, and we do give a shit. And if there were more of us AIDS wouldn’t be what it is at this moment in history. It’s more than just a disease, which ignorant people have turned into an excuse to exercise the bigotry they have always felt.

It is more than a horror story, exploited by the tabloids. AIDS is really a test of us, as a people. When future generations ask what we did in this crisis, we’re going to have to tell them that we were out here today. And we have to leave the legacy to those generations of people who will come after us.

Someday, the AIDS crisis will be over. Remember that. And when that day comes – when that day has come and gone, there’ll be people alive on this earth – gay people and straight people, men and women, black and white, who will hear the story that once there was a terrible disease in this country and all over the world, and that a brave group of people stood up and fought and, in some cases, gave their lives, so that other people might live and be free.

So, I’m proud to be with my friends today and the people I love, because I think you’re all heroes, and I’m glad to be part of this fight. But, to borrow a phrase from Michael Callen’s song: all we have is love right now, what we don’t have is time.

In a lot of ways, AIDS activists are like those doctors out there – they’re so busy putting out fires and taking care of people on respirators, that they don’t have the time to take care of all the sick people. We’re so busy putting out fires right now, that we don’t have the time to talk to each other and strategize and plan for the next wave, and the next day, and next month and the next week and the next year.

And, we’re going to have to find the time to do that in the next few months. And, we have to commit ourselves to doing that. And then, after we kick the shit out of this disease, we’re all going to be alive to kick the shit out of this system, so that this never happens again.

 

Gay History Month – October 27: Sigmund Freud On Homosexuality, The GAA Invades Harper’s Magazine and the Tragic Murder of Gay Sailor Allen Schindler

Gay/LGBT History Month: October 27th: Sigmund Freud, Vito Russo, and the Tragic Murder of Gay Sailor Allen Schindler

October 27th.

1903:I am of the firm conviction,’ Sigmund Freud famously wrote to the newspaper Die Zeit in 1905, `that homosexuals must not be treated as sick people.”’

In 1935, Freud wrote to a mother who had asked him to treat her son’s homosexuality, a letter that would later become famous:

I gather from your letter that your son is a homosexual. I am most impressed by the fact that you do not mention this term yourself in your information about him. May I question you why you avoid it

Homosexuality is assuredly no advantage, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation; it cannot be classified as an illness; we consider it to be a variation of the sexual function, produced by a certain arrest of sexual development. Many highly respectable individuals of ancient and modern times have been homosexuals, several of the greatest men among them. (Plato, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, etc). It is a great injustice to persecute homosexuality as a crime –and a cruelty, too. If you do not believe me, read the books of Havelock Ellis.

By asking me if I can help [your son], you mean, I suppose, if I can abolish homosexuality and make normal heterosexuality take its place. The answer is, in a general way we cannot promise to achieve it. In a certain number of cases we succeed in developing the blighted germs of heterosexual tendencies, which are present in every homosexual; in the majority of cases it is no more possible. It is a question of the quality and the age of the individual. The result of treatment cannot be predicted.

What analysis can do for your son runs in a different line. If he is unhappy, neurotic, torn by conflicts, inhibited in his social life, analysis may bring him harmony, peace of mind, full efficiency, whether he remains homosexual or gets changed.

1951: The French Postal Service issued stamps with the pictures of those famous crazy co-dependent gay poet lovers Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud. on them. Viva La France!

1964: 18-year-old Cheryl Sarkisian (aka “Cher”) wears bell bottoms at her wedding to Sonny Bono and the rest is Cherstory!

1970Forty members of the Gay Activist Alliance including Vito Russo, Morty Manford, Jim Owles, Arnie Kantrowitz, Arthur Evans, and Peter Fischer invade the offices of Harper’s Magazine with a news crew from WOR-TV New York to protest the article  “Homo/Hetero: The Struggle for Sexual Identity in which the magazine presented homosexuality as a mental illness.

Written by Joesphn Epstein:

“They are different from the rest of us. Homosexuals are different, moreover, in a way that cuts deeper than other kinds of human differences — religious, class, racial — in a way that is, somehow, more fundamental. Cursed without clear cause, afflicted without apparent cure, they are an affront to our rationality, living evidence of our despair of ever finding a sensible, an explainable, design to the world. One can tolerate homosexuality, a small enough price to be asked to pay for someone else’s pain, but accepting it, really accepting it, is another thing altogether. I find I can accept it least of all when I look at my children. There is much my four sons can do in their lives that might cause me anguish, that might outrage me, that might make me ashamed of them and of myself as their father. But nothing they could ever do would make me sadder than if any of them were to become homosexual. For then I should know them condemned to a state of permanent niggerdom among men, their lives, whatever adjustment they might make to their condition, to be lived out as part of the pain of the earth.

 “If I had the power to do so, I would wish homosexuality off the face of this earth.  I would do so because I think it brings infinitely more pain than pleasure to those who are forced to live with it; because I think there is no resolution for this pain in our lifetime, only, for the majority of homosexuals, more pain and various degrees of exacerbating adjustment; and because, wholly selfishly, I find myself completely incapable of coming to terms with it.” 

GAA president Arthur Evans verbally attacked editor Midge Decter for publishing an article which would add to the suffering of homosexuals. Dector denied that the article reinforced anti-gay prejudice. A decade later, she would write her own virulent anti-gay screed, “The Boys on the Beach,” for Commentary, Norman Podhoretz’s magazine (who also just happened to be her husband). The only regret that she expressed about her encounter over Epstein’s “elegant and thoughtful essay” was that the protesters lacked the “dash and high taste” she had come to expect from summers she spent earlier that decade in the the Fire Island Pines.

Although the Harper’s article was one of the most insulting to appear in the media, it galvanized gays and lesbians in the community who had never become involved in gay liberation at a public level

The protest led to a three part television news series on gay liberation presented by WOR.

1990: The United States Congress repeals a law barring homosexuals from being admitted to the United States on grounds of mental illness.

1992: The Federal Court of Canada ordered the military to lift the ban on gay and lesbian service personnel. The Defense Department declined to appeal the decision.

1993:  Allen Schindler, a gay American sailor, was brutally beaten to death by his shipmates.

Two months before his 23rd birthday, on Oct. 27, 1992, while on shore leave in Sasebo, Japan, Allen Schindler was followed into a park bathroom shortly before midnight by two drunken shipmates, one of whom, Airman Charles Vins, watched and occasionally joined in while the other, Airman Apprentice Terry Helvey, kneed Schindler in the groin, struck him in the face and then, cradling his head in the crook of his arm, punched him repeatedly while lowering him to the floor. There, Helvey began stamping on him with the heel of his foot, striking blows from head to crotch that resulted, according to the pathologist who performed the autopsy, in abrasions, contusions and lacerations of the forehead, eyes, nose, lips, chin, neck, Adam’s apple, trachea, lungs, liver — which was pulped “like a smushed tomato” — and penis. The pathologist compared the damage to that of a “high-speed auto accident or a low-speed aircraft accident” and said it was the most severe trauma he’d ever witnessed — even worse than a case he’d seen of a man trampled to death by a horse.

A sailor who happened upon the scene but could only make out shadows through a window in the bathroom door described Helvey’s footwork another way: “It seemed like he was dancing.”

Terry Helvey was convicted of murder and Douglas J. Bradt, the captain who kept the incident quiet was demoted and transferred to Florida. Helvey is now serving a life sentence in the military prison at the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, although by statute, he is granted a clemency hearing every year. Helvey’s accomplice, Charles Vins, was allowed to plea bargain as guilty to three lesser offenses, including failure to report a serious crime and to testify truthfully against Terry Helvey, and served a 78-day sentence before receiving a general discharge from the Navy.

 

How Lily Tomlin Helped Vito Russo Before He Passed Away From AIDS

The Untold Story Of How Lily Tomlin Helped Vito Russo Before He Passed Away From AIDS

There are many stories from the horrific AIDS Plague years that goes untold. Some are bad, some are good. But all should be remembered.

To mark Lily Tomlin’s 80th. birthday this weekend. Vito Russo’s brother, Charlie, posted a story about Lily and his brother in the the last months of Vito’s life before he passed away of AIDS on November 7, 1990 to his Facebook page.

Today is Lily Tomlin’s 80th Birthday and this story needs to be told.

Two months before we lost my brother Vito, he asked me to go with him to Fire Island with his best friend Arnie He wanted to visit a special place in his heart one last time.

We spent a few days visiting ‘old spots’ and listening to two friends reminisce about the good old days on the island. Vito walked the entire island and was given a superstar welcome when recognized. (Although in a very weakened state).

Upon our return home he wanted to stop at Balducci’s for some food for home. When we arrived at his apartment I asked him if he needed any money. He reached down into his jeans and took out a crumbled up check. It was $3,000 from Lily Tomlin.

He said, ‘she has been sending me money since I got sick’. She did it quietly never saying a word about her kindness to her friend. I just thought that people should know this about her as she celebrates her 80th.”

As horrible as the plague years were it did do onbe thing. It brought the community, and friends together because we knew that we could not depend on anyone else outside of it.

Lily  Tomlin has made us laugh for 50 years, and today she made me cry over her caring and generosity.

I didn’t think I could love her anymore.

I was wrong

Beyoncé and Anti-Gay Lyric Writing Husband JAY-Z To Receive 2019 GLAAD Media Award

Beyoncé and Anti-Gay Lyric Writing Husband JAY-Z To Receive 2019 GLAAD Media Award

GLAAD has just announced that their Vanguard Media Award at the upcoming 30th annual GLAAD will be presented to Beyoncéand JAY-Z.

The Vangard Media Award is presented to “allies who have made a significant difference in promoting acceptance of LGBTQ people.”

Now we all know that Beyonce is a tireless LGBT advocate and has stood up numerous times over issues that affect the LGBT community. (SNORT)  And JAY-Z has written some of the most pro-LGBT rap lyrics and music to date. Including some of these most memorable lines.

In his 2001 song “Heart of the City (Ain’t No Love),” the GLAAD recognized pro-gay singer raps:

Young faggots spittin’ at me, young rappers gettin’ at me
My nigga Big predicted this s**t exactly
“Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems” – gotta move carefully
‘Cause faggots hate when you gettin’ money like athletes

Jay-Z also took a stand for ‘equality’ in a toe-tapper called, “La-La-La (Excuse Me Miss Again),” in which he sings:

Now I ain’t down with who like me or who like you
That’s gay, I ain’t into liking dudes no way

He also bravely took a stand for the gay community in his tune, “22 Two’s,” :

Too many faggot niggas clockin’ my spendin’
Exercisin’ your gay-like minds like Richard Simmons

GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis had the audacity yo call Beyonce and Jay-Z  “global icons and passionate defenders of human rights and acceptance for all people,” in a press statement, adding, “When Beyoncé and JAY-Z speak, the world becomes inspired and when it comes to LGBTQ people, their voices of acceptance have been heard loud and clear.”

Sarah Kate Ellis should hang her head in shame and resign or have her over-paid ass kicked to the street.

Poor Vito Russo is rolling in his grave over what has happened to the once noble organization that he founded. 

HBO To Air Documentary Of The Life Of Vito Russo “VITO”

Vito Russo is one of our LGBT History’s greatest heroes. 

Vito an  LGBT activist, film historian was a founding member of Gay Activists Alliance and participated in every significant milestone in the gay liberation movement, from Stonewall to Act Up.  Russo’s concern over how LGBT people were presented in the popular media led him to co-found the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and to write “The Celluloid Closet,” the first book to critique Hollywood’s portrayals of gays on screen.

HBO will air  “VITO” a 2011 Documentary which Premiered October 14, 2011 at the 49th New York Film Festival at Lincoln and will air it during Gay Pride Month, June 2012.

His story is also the story of our community,” said director Jeffery Schwarz

“Vito” melds archival footage and interviews.  A Hollywood Reporter review called it “an emotionally powerful documentary portrait with an impassioned voice that befits its subject.”

Vito Russo died of AIDS-related complications in 1990.