Vito Russo (b. 1946, New York City - November 7, 1990, New York City) was an American gay activist, film historian and author who is best remembered as the author of the book The Celluloid Closet (1981, revised edition 1987).
Russo developed his material following screenings of camp films shown as fundraisers for the early gay rights organization Gay Activists Alliance. He traveled throughout the country from 1972 to 1982, delivering The Celluloid Closet as a live lecture presentation with film clips at colleges, universities, and small cinemas such as the Roxie Cinema in San Francisco. In both the book and in the lecture/film clip presentation, he related the history of gay and lesbian moments -- and the treatment of gay and lesbian characters -- in American and foreign films of the past.
In 1983, Russo wrote, produced, and co-hosted a series focusing on the gay community called Our Time for WNYC-TV. This series featured the nation's first GLBT hard news and documentary video segment produced and directed by social behaviorist, D. S. Vanderbilt.
Russo's concern over how LGBT people were presented in the popular media led him to co-found the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), a watchdog group that monitors LGBT representation in the mainstream media and presents the annual GLAAD Media Awards. The Vito Russo Award is named in his memory and is presented to an openly gay or lesbian member of the media community for their outstanding contribution in combating homophobia. Russo was also actively involved in the AIDS direct action group ACT UP.
Russo appeared in the 1989 Academy Award-winning documentary Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt as a "storyteller," relating the life and death of his lover Jeffrey Sevcik.
In 1990 Vito Russo spent a year in California at the University of California Santa Cruz, teaching a class entitled The Celluloid Closet. He enjoyed being a professor, spending lecture breaks smoking and joking with his students.
After his death there was a memorial in Santa Cruz put on by students and colleagues; there were testimonials about how inspirational he had been and en masse, the group sang, in his memory, Somewhere Over the Rainbow.
- Holden, Stephen (November 9, 1990), “Vito Russo, 44; A Historian of Film and a Gay Advocate”, The New York Times, <http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C0CE7DC1639F93AA35752C1A966958260>. Retrieved on 30 October 2007
- Stoller, Nancy E (1998), Lessons from the Damned: Queers, Whores, And Junkies Respond to AIDS, Routledge, p. 115, ISBN 0415919614
- Stein, Marc (2004), Encyclopedia of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History in America, Charles Scribner's Sons, p. 54, ISBN 0684312646
- Reference for UCSC Teaching & Memorial: http://www.metroactive.com/papers/cruz/04.11.96/celluloid-9615.html
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