a prominent, openly gay journalist and author
A freelance television and newspaper reporter in the San Francisco Bay Area, Shilts covered issues facing local LGBTQ communities, most notably the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. Shilts published three books: The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk (1982), And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS epidemic (1989), and Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the U.S. Military, Vietnam to the Persian Gulf (1993).
In 1982, Shilts published his first book, The Mayor of Castro Street, about Harvey Milk and LGBT political power in San Francisco. Shilts’ extensive research on the development of the AIDS epidemic, a topic assigned to him by the Chronicle, led to his second book, And the Band Played On in 1989. This book chronicled how the national political climate shaped the epidemic’s growth and examined its social ramifications.
Critics have commented that Shilts’ final book, Conduct Unbecoming, about how military culture historically shaped a particular kind of homophobia, enabled mainstream readers to see lesbian and gay issues as matters of human rights worthy of national and international priority. In 1987, Shilts was diagnosed as HIV positive; he publicly disclosed his status in 1993. He died of fully developed AIDS on February 17, 1994, in Guerneville, California