Happy Birthday to GLAAD Co-Founder Vito Russo

Today GLAAD celebrates one of its co-founders: Vito Russo.

Russo is remembered as an LGBT activist, film historian, and writer. His most famous book was "The Celluloid Closet" which he gave lectures from after his film screenings across the country at colleges and cinemas. Through these lectures as apart of the GAA (Gay Activists Alliance), he related the efforts of gay and lesbian movements to the treatment of gay and lesbian characters in American and foreign films in the past. He focused on how audiences perceived these characters, and how their negative portrayals increased society's homophobia.

He turned this focus on film onto the media at large with the inception of GLAAD in 1985. GLAAD came about during the start of the AIDS outbreak and initially sought to change The New York Post's defamatory and sensationalized coverage. In 1987, after talks with The New York Times, GLAAD got the publication to use the word "gay" instead of harsher terms referring to gay people. Since then, GLAAD has worked with grass roots organizations, businesses, and publications to ensure fair and honest coverage of LGBT persons in the media.

Russo was also a founding member of AIDS direct action group ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unlesh Power) in 1987 with the mission of seeking legislation, research and treatment, and policies for people with AIDS.  

Russo's most famous speech: "Why We Fight" was delivered at ACT UP demostrations in Albany, NY and Washington D.C in 1988.

So, if I'm dying from anything, I'm dying from homophobia. If I'm dying from anything, I'm dying from racism. If I'm dying from anything, it's from indifference and red tape, because these are the things that are preventing an end to this crisis. If I'm dying from anything, I'm dying from Jesse Helms. If I'm dying from anything, I'm dying from the President of the United States. And, especially, if I'm dying from anything, I'm dying from the sensationalism of newspapers and magazines and television shows, which are interested in me, as a human interest story -- only as long as I'm willing to be a helpless victim, but not if I'm fighting for my life.

- "Why We Fight" Vito Russo

In 1990, Russo lost his fight against AIDS due to complications from the virus. He would have been 66 today.

The Vito Russo Award was made in his honor for the GLAAD Media Awards and was recently accepted by film, television, and theater producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron at the GLAAD Awards in NYC this past March.

Michael Schiavi has written a book about Vito Russo in his biography "Celluloid Activist: The Life and Times of Vito Russo"

HBO has aired two documentaries celebrating his life and his work since. 1996's "The Celluloid Closet" after his book, and was co-executive produced and narrated by actress Lily Tomlin. Another documentary "Vito" directed by Jeffrey Schwartz, premiered last month in June.

Today we remember and acknowledge all of Vito's hardwork beginning from the very start of the gay rights movement after the Stonewall Riots in 1969. For 20 years Vito worked with other activists to ensure equal rights for LGBT people in the media, a mission we at GLAAD still strive for today.