Imagine Hope: AIDS and Gay Identity

Imagine Hope: AIDS and Gay Identity

Imagine Hope: AIDS and Gay Identity

Imagine Hope: AIDS and Gay Identity


Among the themes of this book are the representation of AIDS in the mass media and in the arts, and the encouragement of a wider understanding of the personal impact of AIDS and its social experience.


Whatever time of day it was that Vito Russo was born, it must have been under the sign of the Ruby Slippers. Like so many other gay men, Vito loved the movies because they had helped him make sense of his feelings as a gay kid, and he never lost that sense of films as friends. When you visited his New York apartment he would always be bursting to show you some rare recent find—the fluttering image of a camp butler in some unknown Thirties comedy, a dizzy blonde smoking langorously as she waves goodbye to the last of the lifeboats, Judy Garland doing something absolutely extraordinary, whatever.

Vito also had the most wonderful and passionate sense of the importance of our knowing about the real history of our communities. He was a tremendous advocate for lesbian and gay culture and did as much as anyone else to encourage the emergence of modern gay cinema all round the world.

For the past five years Vito had been living with AIDS, and he played a central role in the emergence of ACT UP in New York. This is how he describes telling his parents he had AIDS: ‘There was silence and no hysteria. Finally, my mother said “Do you know why I’m not hysterical? I suspected this all along and I was just wondering when you were going to decide to tell us.” My father cried a little, held both of my hands and told me that everything would be alright and that we would get through this together. They are not strong or highly intelligent people, but they were being strong for me’ (Surviving and Thriving With Aids Vol 2). I know that this helped Vito to be strong for so many other people.

It is typical of Vito that he should have been the person who managed to get Bette Midler to come along and calm down a near-riot after New York’s first ever Gay Pride march, and that when I last spoke to him on the phone a few weeks ago he was just off to see her for tea.

When I visited him this summer on Fire Island, where he was convalescing after massive chemotherapy, he was appalled that I’d never seen Cher in Moonstruck, and promptly proceeded to rent the video that same evening. A group of us sat around as Vito introduced the film in his inimitably lively way, drawing deeply on his own roots in New York’s Italian community, alert

* First published in Gay Times, December 1990.

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