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Talking with Randy Shilts

Talking with Randy Shilts — The author of the gay-rights book ”Conduct Unbecoming” talks about his cause and why this is a landmark year for him

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When Randy Shilts set out in 1988 to write about the military’s war against homosexuals, he wasn’t sure anyone would care. But President Bill Clinton’s vow to lift that ban — coupled with last week’s huge gay-rights march on Washington, D.C — erased any doubts. ”I was ready to do a gay-rights book,” says Shilts, who is 41 and openly gay. Although he has never served in the armed forces himself, ”I’d heard enough about how the military had conducted its gay purges to know there was grist for stories. But the main appeal was that this is government-mandated discrimination.”

This is a landmark year for Shilts. Not only has Conduct Unbecoming been published to great praise, but a dozen producers are battling for its film rights, and movie versions of And the Band Played On and The Mayor of Castro Street are also in the works. But the San Francisco writer, who has been quietly HIV-positive for several years, came down with AIDS-related pneumonia last fall. ”The acclaim is really exciting and really, really great,” he says. ”But let’s face it: HIV has a way of putting everything in perspective.”