VITO RUSSO (d: 1990) American LGBT activist, film historian and author best remembered as the author of the book The Celluloid Closet (1981, revised edition 1987) was born on this date. Russo developed his material following screenings of films shown as fundraisers for the early gay rights organization Gay Activist 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 public television. 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 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 out gay or Lesbian member of the media community for their outstanding contribution in combating homophobia. Russo was also actively involved in the HIV-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 teaching at the University of California, Santa Cruz, teaching a class, also entitled “The Celluloid Closet”.  He enjoyed being a professor, spending lecture breaks smoking and joking with his students.

Also in 1990, Merrill College at UC Santa Cruz established Vito Russo House to promote Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered awareness and provide a safe and comfortable living environment for queer, straight-supportive and all students who value and appreciate diversity. The house tailors its programming to meet the needs of GLBT students and offers all an opportunity to build understanding and tolerance. Russo died of AIDS-related complications in 1990.

His work was posthumously brought to television in the 1996 HBO documentary The Celluloid Closet narrated by Lily Tomlin. 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 “Somewhere OverThe Rainbow” in his memory. Russo’s papers are held by the New York Public Library. A documentary on the life of Vito Russo, “Activist: The Times of Vito Russo” was released by by Los Angeles production company Automat Pictures and producer Jeffrey Schwartz.

A family-approved biography of Vito’s life, written by NYIT professor Michael Schiavi, titled Celluloid Activist: The Life and Times of Vito Russo was published by the University of Wisconsin Press in the spring of 2011. Jeffrey Schwarz’s 2012 documentary VITO! premiered on HBO and White Crane Books released a two volume companion set of books, Out Spoken: A Vito Russo Reader Reel One and Reel Two It was a 2013 Lammy Finalist for LGBT Nonfiction.