Windy City Media Group Frontpage News


home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2022-06-08



Ritts Coverage: Don't Hide the AIDS Truths
by Michelangelo Signorile

This article shared 12632 times since Wed Jan 22, 2003
facebook twitter google +1 reddit email

Much of the American press seemed to lurch back toward the early '80s recently, while reporting on the death of the famed celebrity and fashion photographer Herb Ritts.

It was downright creepy to see a Reagan-era euphemism for AIDS pop up as the cause of Ritts' death in obituary after obituary: 'complications from pneumonia.' The New York Times, CNN, The Los Angeles Times, the Associated Press (in a story that ran in Newsday and many other papers) and other media organizations quoted Ritts' publicist, also identified as a friend, who used that term to describe what brought the openly gay photographer's life to an end at the age of 50.

Soon enough it was revealed in the gay press (and since has only appeared in a few gossip columns) that Ritts had in fact been HIV-positive for years. His immune system had been sufficiently weakened; HIV infection had left him unable to fight off the pneumonia.

In other words, Herb Ritts' death was an AIDS fatality. And the ignorance of the truth surrounding it signals that, once again, this is a disease that dare not speak its name. And that silence has consequences.

The New York Times' policy regarding obituaries—formulated in 1986, precisely because of the problems encountered in reporting on public figures who died of complications from AIDS—states that 'the obituary of a newsworthy public personality, of any age, should reflect energetic reporting on the cause.'

The Associated Press doesn't have an official policy, but advises reporters to exhaust every means available—including interviews with the deceased's friends and family, public records and statements by doctors—to determine the cause of a public figure's death.

But it doesn't appear that there was any kind of 'energetic reporting' in this instance. Most mainstream press reporters seemed to have spoken to only one individual—the publicist—and even then seemed to have followed a sort of 'don't ask, don't tell' policy.

The Advocate, the national gay and lesbian newsmagazine, however, did ask.

And, lo and behold, the very same publicist offered a fuller explanation: 'Herb was HIV[-positive], but this particular pneumonia was not PCP [pneumocystis pneumonia, a common opportunistic infection of AIDS]. But at the end of the day, his immune system was compromised.' That statement perhaps prompted the Washington Blade, the gay weekly in the nation's capital, to rightly run with the headline, 'Gay photographer Herb Ritts succumbs to AIDS.'

It's nice to know that small pockets of the gay community might now have the full story. But the fact remains: Millions of Americans, gay and straight, still haven't a clue about what took the life of the celebrity photographer who was himself a big supporter of AIDS causes.

This isn't just another example of incomplete or deceptive reporting. It's also a tragic omission at a time when study after study shows unsafe sex and new infections continuing to rise steeply among younger generations of gay men, often because the realities of AIDS are abstract to them—enough to allow them to take foolish risks.

They are often too young to remember the AIDS deaths of celebrities, like Rock Hudson in 1985, which jolted America and the world. Most young gay men also have not watched their own friends die, as was the case for gay men of previous generations. This is true even as many of these young men become infected with HIV themselves and stay quiet about their illness, going on the drug 'cocktail,' chained for the rest of their lives to powerful pharmaceuticals that often have horrific side effects.

Those drugs have thankfully saved many lives. Ironically, they've also driven AIDS back into the closet. The decline of AIDS awareness in the newsroom mirrors what has happened in society in general. No longer are many people with HIV walking around rail-thin and gaunt. Many even use testosterone as part of their therapy, building up their bodies and developing bulging biceps, often appearing more fit than their uninfected friends. AIDS becomes increasingly invisible, on the streets as well as in the media, even as HIV infection is an ever-present danger. And clearly, though American fatalities have decreased a great deal, HIV still kills.

That's why the story behind the death of Herb Ritts, a man who photographed Hollywood icons and shot music videos for youth idols such as Jennifier Lopez and 'NSync, would go a long way.

That is, if anybody actually heard about it.

Copyright © 2003, Newsday, Inc.

This article shared 12632 times since Wed Jan 22, 2003
facebook twitter google +1 reddit email


Gay News

Kinsey Institute exhibiting iconic Tom Fox HIV/AIDS photo series
An exhibition of 60 iconic photographs documenting Indiana University alumnus Tom Fox's battle with AIDS in the late 1980s will hang in the Grand Hall of Maxwell Hall on the Indiana University-Bloomington campus. "Wild Horse Running: ...

Gay News

'Dining Out for Life' taking place Aug. 11
The annual event known as Dining Out for Life will take place Thursday, Aug. 11. People can join the Chicago restaurant community in ensuring essential services are available to people living with HIV during the daylong ...

Gay News

Gene Siskel Film Center running 'Pioneers of Queer Cinema'
In partnership with the UCLA Film & Television Archive, the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. Clark St., presents differing, often radical explorations of sexual orientation and gender identity in the series "Pioneers of Queer Cinema." ...

Gay News

Black AIDS Institute seeks president/CEO
The Black AIDS Institute (BAI) has partnered with Coleman Lew Canny Bowen, a retained executive search firm, to conduct a search for a president/CEO. This position reports directly to the board of directors and leads a ...

Gay News

Registration for the 31st Annual AIDS Run & Walk only $24 for 24 hours on July 24
-- From a press release - (Chicago, IL) AIDS Foundation Chicago (AFC) announces the return of its popular $24 for 24 promotion on July 24 for discounted registration for the 31st annual AIDS Run & Walk Chicago (ARWC) taking place Oct. 2 ...

Gay News

Fifteen organizations receive funding from Illinois African American HIV/AIDS Response Act
-- From a press release - CHICAGO, IL — JULY 22, 2022 — Thirteen African American-led community-based organizations (of 15 possible as the maximum) in Illinois have been awarded grants ranging up to $500,000+ from the ...

Gay News

White House Office of National AIDS Policy hosts historic Prosecutor Roundtable on HIV Criminal Law
-- From a press release - WASHINGTON — On June 30, 2022, the Center for HIV Law & Policy (CHLP) and the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys (APA), in partnership with the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, brought together the nation's ...

Gay News

Sen. Baldwin, colleagues applaud confirmation of Global AIDS Coordinator, push for global LGBTQI+ rights
-- From a press release - WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sen.Tammy Baldwin joined her colleagues in congratulating John Nkengasong on his recent confirmation as U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator. The lawmakers also urged Ambassador Nkengasong to ensure ...

Gay News

Chicago LGBTQ+ leaders, activists reflect on Pride Month at event state Sen. Simmons hosts
On June 29, Illinois first out gay state senator, Mike Simmons, hosted a press conference featuring Chicago LGBTQ+ leaders and activists at Gerber/Hart Library and Archives. Speakers included Simmons; Gerber/Hart ...

Gay News

Out at CHM: Panelists discuss HIV/AIDS' continued impact on dance community
The Chicago History Museum (CHM) hosted a June 23 panel with doctors and dancers who shared their experiences with the HIV/AIDS epidemic as well as ideas for continuing to address the disease today. Following the discussion, ...

Gay News

CDC reminds people that National HIV Testing Day is June 27
-- From a press release - June 27 is National HIV Testing Day (NHTD), a day to emphasize the importance of HIV testing and make sure everyone knows their status so they can take steps to improve their health, regardless of the ...

Gay News

HIV testing dropped sharply among key groups during first year of COVID-19 pandemic
-- From a press release - New CDC data published ahead of National HIV Testing Day (Monday, June 27) show a sharp decrease in the number of CDC-funded HIV tests administered in health care and non-health-care settings (43% and 50%, respectively) from ...

Gay News

100 HIV groups call on Congress to fund Biden's National PrEP Program
-- From a press release - (New York City, NY) Wednesday, June 15, 2022—PrEP4All, Inc., along with 100 HIV organizations, are leading the push for Congress to fund a National Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) Program that would ...

Gay News

PASSAGES Onetime Gay Chicago publisher Craig Gernhardt
Craig Gernhardt—who once was the publisher of the now-defunct Gay Chicago—has died at age 61, according to Tribute Archive. His father, Gay Chicago Magazine co-founder and Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame inductee Ralph Paul Gernhardt, passed ...

Gay News

TPAN to host Closing Ceremony for Ride For Life Chicago June 19
-- From a press release - Chicago, IL—TPAN will host the Closing Ceremony of the Ride For Life Chicago on Sunday, June 19 at Foster Beach from noon-5pm. Cyclists will complete their 200-, 100-, and 50-mile rides to converge at the beach ...


Copyright © 2022 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.







About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Advanced Search     
Windy City Queercast      Queercast Archives     
Press  Releases      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast      Blogs     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam     
Privacy Policy     

Windy City Media Group publishes Windy City Times,
The Bi-Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.