As managing editor of the school newspaper at the University of Oregon in the early 1970s, Randy Shilts made a bold, courageous move for the times: He openly declared that he was gay.
After graduation, Shilts eventually got a job at the San Francisco Chronicle, just as a mysterious new menace called AIDS was just starting to ravage the city's gay community. He was one of the first journalists to grasp the significance of AIDS, and how it would become an important national issue. He persuaded the newspaper to let him cover AIDS and turn it into a fulltime beat. "Any good reporter could have done this story," he once explained. But Shilts had a personal incentive as well, because people he knew were dying of the disease.
Shilts' reporting for the Chronicle eventually became the basis for his 1987 book, "And the Band Played On: Politics, People and the AIDS Epidemic," which indicted the Reagan Administration, the healthcare system and even some gay organizations for not doing enough to deal with the disease's spread. Shilts' book, which spent five weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, helped change attitudes about the disease, which he eventually died from in 1994 [source: Grimes].