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Who Is Vito Russo?

Vito Russo (1946-1990), a film historian, writer, and gay rights and AIDS activist, was born on July 11, 1946 in New York City. Russo became active in gay politics in 1970 when he joined New York’s Gay Activist’s Alliance (GAA). During the 1980s, Russo co-founded and became a frequent speaker at meetings, demonstrations, and fundraisers for the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP). In 1985, Russo became one of the founding members of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), an organization that sought to counteract the negative effects of the media on gays, lesbians, and people with AIDS.

He began giving film and lecture presentations in the mid-1970s about the treatment of gay characters in film. This ever-changing program called “The Celluloid Closet,” which he presented at universities, museums and film festivals all over the United States, Europe, and Australia, eventually evolved into a book of the same name. The Celluloid Closet was published by Harper and Row in 1981 and revised in 1987.

In 1985 he learned he had AIDS but was determined to continue his demanding speaking and teaching schedule despite his declining health. He persisted in fighting for increased AIDS research, access to new medications, and an end to discrimination against people with AIDS. He died of AIDS-related complications on November 7, 1990 at the age of forty-four.


Source: New York Public Library “Vito Russo Papers”