Today we honor and celebrate a man whose life work forced everyone to take a hard look at media stereotyping of the LGBT community. Vito Russo was born in 1946 in New York. He had a passion for film and began hosting screenings of camp classics for the Gay Activist Alliance in 1972. As he watched the films, he noted the shallow and often demeaning stereotyping of gay and lesbian characters. Over time, he developed a series of lectures on the topic and began investigating broader media portrayals.
In 1981, Russo published the first book to look at the cinematic treatment of LGBT people and the lives of gay and lesbian actors, The Celluloid Closet. Building on that research, he wrote and produced a series for public television, Our Time, which was the first serious documentary about the gay community.
Russo’s growing concern about the portrayals of gay men, especially in light of the AIDS crisis, led him to create the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) in 1985. This organization has become a powerful watchdog, encouraging positive and accurate media presentations and taking biased and demeaning work to task. GLAAD’s mission, which captures the spirit of Russo’s life, is to
amplify the voice of the LGBT community by empowering real people to share their stories, holding the media accountable for the words and images they present, and helping grassroots organizations communicate effectively. By ensuring that the stories of LGBT people are heard through the media, GLAAD promotes understanding, increases acceptance, and advances equality.
Russo published an expanded edition of The Celluloid Closet in 1986 and participated in the AIDS documentary Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt in 1989. He began teaching a course at UC Santa Cruz based on his book. Sadly, Russo died of AIDS-related complications in 1990. His book was adapted into a powerful documentary also calledThe Celluloid Closet in 1996. GLAAD created the Vito Russo Award as the centerpiece of their annual media awards; it is given to a celebrity whose efforts help advance LGBT equality.
Vito Russo was a pioneer whose tenactiy was matched by wit and charm. His efforts have helped improve the lives of all LGBT people by creating a more responsible media and encouraging accurate and positive images.