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04/25/95

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Activist Michelangelo Signorile launches gay- pride celebration

STANFORD -- Gay activist Michelangelo Signorile, the keynote speaker for a three-week series of events on campus celebarting Bisexual, Gay and Lesbian Awareness Days, looks back at his own college days with incredulity and good humor.

"Ten years ago, yes, we had a gay group at Syracuse, but all we did was have weekly wine and cheese parties," he recalled this week. At a time when being identified as a homosexual was "the most horrible thing in the world," Signorile and his friends stayed safely "in the closet" on campus -- and even spent some time in the shadows.

"I had a friend, a straight woman, who was in journalism school with me and wanted to do a report on gay life," Signorile said. "She didn't use our names, and put us in 'shadows' for photographs. That's the way it was done then. That was journalism."

Signorile will kick off Stanford's Bisexual, Gay and Lesbian Awareness Days (BGLAD) with a speech at 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 2, in Annenberg Auditorium. The fact that he spends most fall and spring semesters commuting from one campus to another still amazes him, he says.

"For the past three weeks I've been flying back and forth between my home in New York and Nashville; Cincinnati; Kansas City; State College, Pennsylvania; and now Stanford," he said. "Wherever I go, students tell me about all the problems they're having -- how they're butting heads with the administration and conservative groups -- and they're all so angry and upset.

"I look at them and I say, 'But wait, this is great. You've got lesbian and gay events, and authors coming to your schools. I'm not exactly 100 years old yet, and we had nothing like this."'

Signorile wrote in his 1993 bestseller, Queer in America: Sex, the Media and the Closets of Power, that his life was changed in 1987 when he attended his first meeting of ACT UP, the AIDS activist organization. Raised in working-class neighborhoods of Brooklyn and Staten Island, and expelled from Monsignor Farrell High School "because I was queer," Signorile signed on with ACT UP to protest the visit of a papal envoy who had written that homosexuality was a "moral evil." Signorile was arrested at the protest, and found himself facing conflicting emotions:

"I was mortified," he wrote. "What had I done? I can't go to jail, I thought to myself. I have a dinner party tonight." And yet, ". . . somehow, I'd gained the desire to scream at the top of my lungs that I was a homosexual."

Signorile's critics probably would contend that he has been screaming ever since. In his trademark UPPERCASE INVECTIVE, he writes regularly for The Advocate and Out Magazine, the nation's largest gay and lesbian magazine, about issues of concern to the gay community, including the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy and state bans on homosexual marriage.

But Signorile is best known for his advocacy of "outing" -- revealing the homosexuality of public figures. He first reported on the hidden life of deceased millionaire Malcolm Forbes, and in 1991 he was widely criticized for identifying a Defense Department official as a gay man.

"Outing was inevitable, the product of the first American gay generation brought up with the luxury of gay liberation," he argued in Queer in America. In his new book due out in June, Outing Yourself, Signorile provides a 14- step program for coming out of the closet.

"I'll be talking about both books, and basically telling the story of what brought me to the work I'm doing now -- and how the closet has been so detrimental to so many of us," he said of his upcoming keynote speech.

Signorile added that the media has undergone "an amazing evolution" in its attitude toward "outing" in the past five years.

"When it first happened, I was portrayed as dragging these people kicking and screaming out of the closet," he said. "It didn't matter that we were talking about public figures "Now Jann Wenner, publisher of Rolling Stone, leaves his wife for another man, and within three weeks it's on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, and they're coming to me -- the person they had demonized as a monster -- for intellectual analysis. And they're telling me that 'outing' has evolved to something that is now seen as treating gays equally to straights."

Signorile's talk May 2 launches 18 days of events that comprise this year's celebration of Bisexual, Gay and Lesbian Awareness Days. For more information, call 725- 4222.

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