Oh the song of the future has been sung
All the battles have been won
On the mountain tops we stand
All the world at our command
We have opened up her soil
With our teardrops and our toil …
Gordon Lightfoot, Canadian Railroad Trilogy
click images for web links to biographical backgrounds
Randy Shilts was a pioneering gay author and journalist who wrote for both the Advocate and the San Francisco Chronicle.
Schilts warned about gay-related immuno-deficiency disease in the Chronicle in 1982, long before it would be called AIDS. He wrote three best-selling books on topics that were not even considered “acceptable” discussion in most circles: The Mayor of Castro Street (Harvey Milk), And The Band Played On (AIDS), and Conduct Unbecoming (gays in the military).
I read Conduct Unbecoming shortly after publication in 1993. That is, I read most of it. Schilts’s book is a massive compendium of carefully researched, documented and footnoted case histories “from Vietnam to the Persian Gulf War” (784 pages, paperback).
As a Vietnam veteran myself, I was only vaguely aware of the public side of the military posture on gays within its ranks before I started this book. I had no idea of the internal workings of Army Intelligence and the military command structure toward entrapment and discharge of suspect soliders and sailors. It is the only book, besides one other, that I found myself unable to continue with because it was staggeringly depressing. The other book was Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago.
Shilts himself died of AIDS, at the age of 42. He reportedly wrote, “HIV is certainly character-building. It’s made me see all of the shallow things we cling to, like ego and vanity. Of course, I’d rather have a few more T-cells and a little less character.”