Signorile in 2011 at the book launch party for Michael Musto's Fork on the Left, Knife in the Back
December 19, 1960 |
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
|Occupation||Journalist, broadcaster, columnist|
|Notable works||Queer in America|
|Spouse||David Gerstner (m. 2013)|
Michelangelo Signorile (//; born December 19, 1960) is an American journalist, author and talk radio host. His radio program is aired each weekday across the United States and Canada on Sirius XM Radio and globally online. Signorile is editor-at-large for the Gay Voices vertical of The Huffington Post, where he writes regularly. He is a political liberal, and covers a wide variety of political and cultural issues.
Signorile is noted for his various books and articles on gay and lesbian politics, and is an outspoken supporter of gay rights. Signorile's seminal 1993 book Queer in America explored the negative effects of the LGBT closet, and provided one of the first intellectual justifications for the practice of outing public officials, influencing the debate and treatment of the issue among journalists from that point on. In 1992 Newsweek listed him as one of America's "100 Cultural Elite," and he is included in the 2002 book, The Gay 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Gay Men and Lesbians, Past and Present, which begins with Socrates at number 1 and ends with Signorile at number 100.
Signorile was born in Brooklyn, New York and spent his early childhood in the 1960s and 1970s in Brooklyn and Staten Island. He attended the S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, where he majored in journalism. It was in those years that he came to realize his own gay sexual orientation, but still remained closeted to many friends and to family.
In the mid-80s, shortly after graduating from college, Signorile moved to Manhattan. Among his first jobs, he worked for an entertainment public relations firm that specialized in "column-planting"—getting clients, which included movie companies and Broadway shows, into New York City's gossip columns, such as the popular Page Six at the New York Post and Liz Smith, then at the New York Daily News. This required collecting and trading in gossip, often about celebrities' private lives. Later, he became a gossip columnist himself. It was in that world in the mid-80s, as Signorile describes in his book Queer in America, where he saw a double standard regarding how the media glamorized heterosexuality among celebrities while covering up homosexuality. But Signorile was not political at the time. He was somewhat open about his own homosexuality by that time, but he had not looked at it in the broader context of politics and culture in America. His political awakening came as the AIDS epidemic expanded in the late 80s and more friends were getting sick and dying.
In his book Queer in America and in numerous articles and interviews, Signorile has discussed how he began to see that many in the media, among his circles as well, were either sensationalizing AIDS in the 80s or running away from it. He also began to believe the government was negligent in the face of the epidemic.
Signorile became a gay activist in 1988, after attending a meeting of the controversial grass roots protest group, ACT UP, in New York. Within days of the meeting he was arrested at a protest at St. Peter's Evangelical Lutheran Church at the Citigroup Center, where the Vatican's envoy and the author of much of the Vatican's recent positions against homosexuality, gay rights and the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was to give a major speech. (Ratzinger would go on become Pope Benedict XVI, succeeding Pope John Paul II upon his death in April 2005). Signorile has explained that he went to the event solely to watch the protesters who were planning on standing up among the attendees and letting their voices be heard. But he became filled with rage while watching Ratzinger speak, thinking about the homophobia he'd experienced as a child and the Catholic Church's decrees. (He was raised as a Roman Catholic). "Suddenly," Signorile wrote in Queer in America about the protest, "I jumped up on one of the marble platforms, and looking down, I addressed the entire congregation in the loudest voice I could. My voice rang out as if it were amplified. I pointed at Ratzinger and shouted, 'He is no man of God!' The shocked faces of the assembled Catholics turned to the back of the room to look at me as I continued: 'He is no man of God—he is the devil!'" Signorile was pulled down, hand-cuffed and carted off by the police.
Signorile soon became the chair of the media committee of ACT UP, organizing publicity for major, theatrical AIDS activist protests of the time, and taking on the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health, New York's City Hall and other government agencies in the media, criticizing them for what AIDS activists saw as their foot-dragging while people were dying. Though controversial, ACT UP and its tactics have been credited with bringing more attention to AIDS among politicians and the media, and speeding the development and approval of HIV drugs in 1990s. Signorile also was a co-founding member, along with three other ACT UP members, of the in-your-face activist group Queer Nation, as he describes in Queer in America.
The outing controversy
Signorile has been considered a pioneer of outing though has contended the discussion has often been distorted by the media and he has been opposed to using a violent, active verb to define the phenomenon Signorile has argued in favor of outing from a journalistic perspective, calling for the "equalization" of reporting on homosexual public figures and heterosexual public figures. He has argued that the homosexuality of public figures—and only public figures—should be reported on when relevant, and only when relevant. Signorile was a co-founding editor of the gay magazine OutWeek, which launched in June 1989 and which was quickly at the center of heated debates inside and outside the gay community, including the controversies over outing. Signorile became the features editor at OutWeek and eventually officially stopped working within ACT UP and Queer Nation, though, like most of OutWeek's staff, maintained deep ties to the groups.
Signorile saw his role at OutWeek as one of taking on the media and the entertainment industry. From the start of the magazine he wrote a weekly column called "Gossip Watch," which was just that—a watch of the gossip columns. He began writing about the media's double standard in reporting on homosexual and heterosexual public figures, and how he believed it made gays invisible in the midst of the health crisis. Among those whom Signorile outed at that time included the Hollywood producer David Geffen (who has long since acknowledged that he is gay). Geffen, as a record producer, was promoting Guns N' Roses, the rock group which had been attacked for antigay lyrics ("fa**ots...spread some f**kin' disease") and other performers, such as the comedian Andrew Dice Clay, whose comedy routines in the late 80s were seen by many as homophobic and misogynistic. Clay had said in a 1984 stand-up act that in Hollywood they have "herpes, AIDS and fag-itis," crudely mocked desperate pleas for AIDS funding as thousands died and while many saw the government as negligent ("get a job, buttfu**a"), and used antigay slurs. "They don't know if they want to be called gays, homosexuals, fairies," he said. "I call them c**ksuckers." Signorile saw it as relevant to discuss Geffen's closeted homosexuality in that context. Signorile also outed the gossip columnist Liz Smith (who also eventually acknowledged her bisexuality), whom he maintained helped celebrities and others to present themselves as heterosexual when they were in fact gay.
The media and celebrity culture that Signorile vilified took notice of his work. The chic fashion industry bible, W magazine, put OutWeek on the "In" list, calling it a "must-read" because of its mix of "culture, politics and vicious gossip" (Queer in America, p. 73), and Signorile would eventually be profiled in New York Magazine and in The New York Times. Signorile was both praised and attacked for his column. He was called "one of the greater contemporary gay heroes," while his work was also called "revolting, infantile, cheap name-calling" (Johansson & Percy, p. 183). New York Post columnist Amy Pagnozzi compared him to the right-wing, anti-communist 1950s senator, Joseph McCarthy, in a column headlined "Magazine Drags Gays Out of the Closet" (Queer in America, p. 73). It was Time that coined the term "outing" at that time, something Signorile has always contended was a biased term. He saw what he was doing as simply "reporting."
The outing controversy became much larger in March 1990, when Signorile wrote a cover story for OutWeek revealing the homosexuality of the publishing tycoon Malcolm Forbes within weeks of his death, headlined "The Other Side of Malcolm Forbes." In a subsequent article in The Village Voice, Signorile charged a media cover-up of his Forbes story, claiming that various news outlets were going to report on it but later decided against it. Eventually, over a period of months, the story was reported on in many news outlets including the Los Angeles Times, but The New York Times still refused to name Forbes, only referring to him as "a recently deceased businessman" who was outed. (It wasn't until five years later, during coverage of Forbes' son Steve's run for the Republican nomination for president in 1996, that the Times finally reported on Malcolm Forbes' gay life).
OutWeek folded in June 1991. Signorile joined the The Advocate with a cover story several months later that put him at the center of a firestorm over gays in the military as well as outing: he outed Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Pete Williams (Williams has since gone on to become a television journalist for NBC News). The outing caused Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney to call the gay ban "an old chestnut" during an interview with Sam Donaldson on ABC, while then presidential candidate Bill Clinton, citing the outing, promised at a gay fundraiser to overturn the ban if he were elected president.
Gay culture debates
Signorile wrote columns and feature stories for The Advocate for several years, including the groundbreaking two-part cover story "Out at The New York Times"—in which the paper's gay and lesbian staffers, its top editors and its then-new publisher, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr., spoke for the first time, to Signorile, about years of homophobia at the paper of record and how they were charting a new course. In 1994, Signorile left the Advocate for the then new glossy, Out magazine, which was founded by his friend and OutWeek colleague Michael Goff and former OutWeek editor Sarah Pettit. In 1995 Signorile published his second book, Outing Yourself, a 14-step program for coming out as gay or lesbian.
At that time, as an Out magazine columnist and editor-at-large, Signorile soon was at the center of often-heated debates among gay activists, sexual liberationists and HIV prevention experts about gay male sexual culture and the prevalence of unsafe sex and HIV transmission. Signorile wrote a column for Out that sparked much discussion, titled "Unsafe Like Me," in which he addressed the issue by admitting to have slipped up himself, having had an incident of unprotected sex, and discussed what may have led someone like him—a prominent AIDS activist, immersed in the issues of prevention—to have such a lapse. The column was adapted to the op-ed page of The New York Times and inspired a CBS "60 Minutes" treatment of the issue in which Signorile was profiled. Signorile followed up that column with several others that focused on what he saw as some unhealthy aspects of gay culture that contributed to low self-esteem and risk-taking. This eventually grew into his 1997 bestseller Life Outside: The Signorile Report on Gay Men: Sex, Drugs, Muscles and the Passages of Life, which was a finalist for the New York Public Library Book Award for Excellence in Journalism. The columns and the book created controversy among some activists; Signorile was criticized by the group Sex Panic! which believed that he and other writers had inspired government crack-downs on gay sex through their writings. Many other commentators and activists disagreed with Signorile's critics, and fierce debates broke out in both gay and mainstream media. Signorile also inspired much discussion and debate with pieces in Out on pro-life gays, animals rights vs. medical research, gay marriage and high-profile antigay hate crimes.
In August 1998, Signorile left Out magazine abruptly in a disagreement with the new editor James Collard. Former Out editor and co-founder, the late Sarah Pettit, a long-time colleague of Signorile's who was also an editor at OutWeek, had been ousted from Out that year in a shake up (Michael Goff had been pushed out earlier) in which she had charged sex discrimination. The new editor, from the UK, had been a promoter of the "post-gay" sensibility, which seemed to eschew activism. According to Signorile, speaking to gay journalist Rex Wockner, Collard wanted him to tone down his writing. "We had a heated discussion and he insulted my sensibilities and it made me so angry I threw water in his face," Signorile told Wockner. "They did not want me to write biting commentary and opinion. They wanted me to do more feature-driven work and I refused to do that because my column in Out has always been a space where I could do commentary, political analysis, features, whatever I wanted. I think it's important to have commentary and solidly researched journalism in the same forum."
The radio years
Several months after leaving Out, Signorile joined The Advocate once again, in December 1998, as a columnist and editor-at-large; his first article was a cover piece taking on the notion of a "post-gay' society as espoused by Out editor Collard. (Within a year after Collard took the post and six months after Signorile left Out, Collard left Out amid reports of a drop in circulation and negative response of a focus group to the magazine.) In 2000, Signorile left the Advocate again, and became a columnist for global Internet site Gay.com, which had just merged with the pioneering LGBT site PlanetOut.com. Signorile traveled around the U.S. and around the world, writing online columns. He covered the controversy surrounding the Millennium March on Washington for LGBT Rights, which divided many in the community regarding its time and purpose and at which a theft occurred at the festival. Signorile reported from Australia and New Zealand, where his partner had taken a position as a professor, and reported on World Pride in Rome in 2000, where activists butted heads with the Vatican, which tried to get the event canceled. During that time Signorile also pioneered Internet radio, webcasting a weekly show on GAYBC.com beginning in 2000, covering the global LGBT community. In an interview, he has described a machine called a "vector" that he would plug into a phone outlet and which allowed him to webcast live via Gaybc's studios in Seattle.(Media Bistro Q & A with Signorile 2002)
In April 2003, Signorile began hosting a radio program, The Michelangelo Signorile Show, on Sirius XM Radio's OutQ each weekday 2 to 6 p.m. Eastern Time. OutQ, as the only 24/7 LGBT radio channel, broke new ground and Signorile's interviews and monologues often made news. After a little over 10 years he moved to the newly launched SiriusXM Progress 127 on July 23, 2013 from 3 to 6 p.m. Eastern Time. The show airs on satellite radio across North America and is streamed worldwide on the Internet and to the Android, BlackBerry, and iOS (iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch) handheld devices to over 25 million Sirius XM subscribers. Signorile interviews politicians, activists, journalists, authors and other public figures, analyzes news and cultural events, and takes calls from listeners from coast-to-coast. Often, Signorile brings on those who are on America's right-wing or are opponents of gay rights, with whom he engages in energetic debates. He is also editor-at-large for The Huffington Post Gay Voices where he blogs opinion pieces and interviews public figures.
Signorile has been an editor-at-large and columnist for The Advocate, and an editor-at-large and a columnist for Out magazine. He has written for many newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, USA Today, and Los Angeles Times, and has appeared on many American television news programs, including Larry King Live, Today and Good Morning America. His magazine articles, newspaper columns and website, which "offers his always-intriguing take on the state of gay rights and other political and cultural topics", champion the cause of gay rights. In particular, Signorile has advocated that gay Americans come out, and has talked about the deleterious effects of the closet both on the closeted individual and on society as a whole. Signorile has been a long-time champion of the right to same-sex marriage. Signorile and much of his work over the years were featured prominently in Outrage (2009 film), directed by acclaimed documentary filmmaker Kirby Dick and which focused on closeted antigay politicians, making the a case for why media should report on their sexual orientation.
He now hosts a daily talk show on SiriusXM satellite radio on the SiriusXM Progress channel (channel 127) from 3–6 ET.
- Queer In America (ISBN 0-299-19374-8)
- Life Outside (ISBN 0-06-092904-9)
- Outing Yourself (ISBN 0-684-82617-8)
- Hitting Hard (ISBN 0-7867-1619-3)
- Alter, Jonathan. 1992. "The Cultural Elite." Newsweek, October 5: 30–34
- Russell, Paul (2002), The Gay 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Gay Men and Lesbians, Past and Present, Kensington Books, ISBN 0-7582-0100-1
- "Journalists Honored for Work in Media, Activism," The Advocate, August 1, 2011
- Out 100 2012, "Out 100: Michelangelo Signorile," Out, December 2012.
- NYC Protest and Civil Rights March Opposing Proposition 8, Andy Towle, Towelroad.com, November 13, 2008; accessed November 14, 2008.
- Signorile, Michelangelo Queer in America, 1993. Chapter 5, "Outing, Part I," pg. 70 .
- Signorile, Michelangelo (1993), Queer in America: Sex, the Media and the Closets of Power, Random House, ISBN 0-299-19374-8, Chapter 5, "Outing Part I," pg. 69
- Lyrics from Gus-N-Roses One in a Million
- Queer in America, pg. 304 and Peter Cunningham bio of Clay .
- Video on YouTube
- Queer in America, Chapter 5, "Outing Part 1," pg. 71
- Signorile, Michelangelo (March 18, 1990), "The Other Side of Malcolm Forbes", Outweek (38): 40–45.
- Bumiller, Elisabeth 1996, New York Times: In Political Quest, Forbes Runs in Shadow of Father. "Mr.Forbes had to contend at the same time with the first published reports in the gay press of his father's homosexuality. His parents were divorced in 1985, and friends say Mr. Forbes did not discuss his father's life with them. But certainly in the last five years of his life, Malcolm Forbes became increasingly indiscreet..."
- Miller, Stephen, FAIR, 1991. Outings and Innings: Media and the Closet.
- Queer in America, Chapter 8, "Outing, Part II," pg. 161 and also noted in March 2010 Advocate column
- Gross, Larry & Woods, James (1999) "The Columbia Reader on Lesbians & Gay Men in Media, Society, and Politics" ISBN 0-231-10446-4 Full article reprinted, Pg. 376
- Sarah Pettit, 36, NY Times Obituary 2003
- Crain, Caleb. Lingua Franca 1997: Pleasure Principles: Queer Theorists and Gay Journalists Wrestle Over the Politics of Sex
- Lehman, Susan, Salon, Dec. 24, 1998: "Out's Liquid Lunch" & Signorile, Michelangelo, The Advocate, Jan 19, 1999: "What Happened to Gay?"
- Swanson, Carl, New York Observer, February 14, 1999.
- Sirius XM Radio Surpasses 25 Million Subscribers, Raises Full-Year Target Hollywood Reporter, July 9, 2013
- "The Advocate 2009. The site offers, among much else, clips of Signorile's television appearances (like his debate with the conservative pundit Laura Ingraham) and a complimentary three-day pass to listen online to his radio show.
- Gross, Larry. Contested Closets: The Politics and Ethics of Outing. University of Minnesota Press, 1993 ISBN 0-8166-2179-9
- Johansson, Warren & Percy, William A. Outing: Shattering the Conspiracy of Silence. Harrington Park Press, 1994.
- Signorile, Michelangelo (1993). Queer In America: Sex, Media, and the Closets of Power. ISBN 0-299-19374-8.
- Gross, Larry & Woods, James (1999) "The Columbia Reader on Lesbians & Gay Men in Media, Society, and Politics " ISBN 0-231-10446-4
- Media Bistro Q & A with Signorile 2002
- The Ethics of Outing by Gabriel Rotello
- Signorile and Ratzinger, Advocate.com 2005
- Salon Media Circus, Liquid Lunch Salon.com 1998
- Rex Wockner's "Quote UnQuote" 1998
- Sarah Pettit, 36, NY Times Obituary 2003
- Signorile's Advocate piece, "Out at the New York Times," reprinted in The Columbia Reader on Lesbians and Gays in Media, Society and Politics 1999, Larry Gross and James Woods
- Bumiller, Elisabeth 1996, New York Times article on Malcolm Forbes, citing that the multimillionaire was indeed gay
- The Advocate. "The Top 15 Gay(ish) Blogs." June 9, 2009. (accessed June 14, 2009).
- Official website
- Signorile's official blog
- The Fales Library Guide to the Michelangelo Signorile Papers
- Michelangelo Signorile at the Internet Movie Database