Deb Price, the award-winning journalist and author who wrote the first nationally syndicated column on LGBT issues in mainstream newspapers, has died in a hospital at age 62 in Hong Kong, where she had lived for many years. The cause of death was interstitial pneumonitis, according to Joyce Murdoch, her wife, who was with Price when she died.
In addition to her work at the Detroit News, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal, Price also taught journalism at Harvard and wrote a number of bestselling books, two with her wife.
In an email, Murdoch said Price was diagnosed with the autoimmune disorder 9 years ago. "It gradually diminished her lung capacity," but "she remained energetic and optimistic."
"She lived life fully, including working at the Hong Kong South China Morning Post" until shortly before she was hospitalized on Sept. 3, Murdoch said.
Price's groundbreaking work covering LGBT issues is widely praised by her colleagues.
Joshua Benton, founder and director of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University and a longtime investigative reporter at the Dallas Morning News, knew Price when she was a fellow at Harvard in 2011.
Posting on Twitter, Benton said Price was a "was a real trailblazer for LGBTQ people in newsrooms and around the country.."
Discussing Price's nationally syndicated column, Benton said, "It's hard to overestimate how significant this was. This was long before the Internet gave Americans a window into any topic or community they wanted. Most people got a huge share of their information about the world from the local daily and local TV news.
"Most Americans in  said they don't know a single gay person. Then suddenly there was Deb, on the breakfast table next to the sports section. She wasn't just running in NYC and SF, eithershe was reaching people in red states, too."
"The mainstream news business was quite closed to openly LGBTQ reporters even into the 1990s," said Tracy Baim, LGBT journalist, publisher of Chicago's alternative newspaper the Reader and co-founder of Windy City Times LGBTQ newspaper in 1985.
"When Price's nationally syndicated column began, it was truly groundbreaking. It ran in the Chicago Sun-Times, and many other papers, bringing an openly lesbian voice to parts of the U.S. that still had very nascent LGBTQ power structures. Her voice was not just historically critical, but it was also very good."
Among the positions held by Price were managing editor of Caixin Global, China's independent financial publication; Asia commodities editor and Asia finance and markets editor at The Wall Street Journal; White House and congressional correspondent and deputy bureau chief at the Detroit News; and editor at the Washington Post. Price taught journalism at Harvard after studying at Harvard Business School as a Nieman Fellow.
Price and Murdoch met while at the Washington Post. The couple married in Toronto on June 27, 2003, "the first place on the planet that non-resident American gay couples could marry. We were among the very first American couples to be legally married," Murdoch wrote. Earlier, they'd had a civil union in Vermont and before that, were the first gay couple to have a registered partnership in Tacoma Park, Md., which, she noted, "was legally meaningless but important nevertheless at the time."
Murdoch and Price were the first gay couple to have their marriage announced on the Washington Post's wedding page. "That was a battle I waged because earlier the Post's bigwigs had declared that gay couples getting civil unions (something Deb and I never had) were barred from the weddings page because they were not in legal marriages. Once our marriage was legal, I went all the way up to Donald Graham to press the Post to follow its own rules: Recognizing legally married couples. It did. Beating The New York Times and other major papers in making that change. And our breakthrough was announced on the CNN news crawl … . And other couples then got there marriages announced by the Post and other places fairly routinely. And many of them wrote to thank us," wrote Murdoch.
"Deb and I always felt that it was our obligation to use whatever power her column gave us personally and professionally to try to make strides for all LGBT folks."
Murdoch said she hopes to become a Hong Kong "permanent resident," a status that would allow her to be there as much as she chose. "Post pandemic, I'll split my time among Hong Kong, Cambridge, Mass.," where the couple also had a home, and traveling to see friends.
"Deb deeply loved Hong Kong; I feel very close to her here," Murdoch concluded.
In an email, Joyce shared a note she sent to a few close friends just after Price died on Nov. 20.
"Deb passed away quickly and peacefully around 10 o'clock at night on Friday. I was at her bedside, holding her hand and speaking to her as her vital signs plunged much as if she had taken an intentional dive off a very high cliff. The end lasted mere seconds. February 27, 1958November 20, 2020. Sixty-two. Too damn young.
"After more than 11 weeks of hospitalizationmost of it in an ICUDeb knew that her only escape was the one she chose. Her lungs were hopelessly ruined. She freed herself and, at the same time, blessedly kept me from having to make the most difficult decisions in the world. Deb died in a private room that was quiet, warmly lit and peaceful. When her vital signs plunged in an instant to zero there was no frantic running around, no chest pounding. The nurse and I tried gently and briefly to revive her, but we knew that was not to be. Deb was no longer part of this world."
And on Facebook, Murdoch wrote, "Deb lived energetically, optimistically, bravely and fully. Her 18 years as a groundbreaking gay columnist changed lives, healed families and helped our nation progress toward being a more perfect union. She was the center of my universe. So much of what I've achieved personally and professionally was possible because Deb believed in me, encouraged me, loved me. For 35 years we were a helluva team. She will live on in my heart forevermore."
The couple wrote the books And Say Hi to Joyce and Courting Justice: Gay Men And Lesbians V. The Supreme Court together.
This article was also published in the Bay Area Reporter.