Pride Profile: Vito Russo, activist/film historian/author

(1946 – 1990)

The Celluloid Closet, whether as a lecture, book, or ultimately a film version, became the seminal work on the history of gay and lesbian characters in film by Vito Russo.

Beginning in 1972 Russo traveled the globe for more than a decade, opening eyes to the negative and derogatory ways gay characters were depicted in the movies.  His passion and advocacy for positive portrayals of LGBT people in mainstream media led him to co-found Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, aka GLAAD.  Diagnosed in 1985 with HIV, he became actively involved with ACTUP before his death in 1990.

“The root of heterosexual fear of male homosexuality is in the fact that anyone might be gay. Straight men aren’t threatened by a flamboyant faggot because they know they aren’t like that; they’re threatened by a guy who’s just like they are who turns out to be queer.”
-Vito Russo

In 1996 Lily Tomlin co-executive produced and narrated The Celluloid Closet for HBO.


In 2011 a documentary film on the life of Vito Russo, Vito premiered at the new York Film festival and had its television premiere on HBO the following year.


In 2013 GLAAD established “The Vito Russo Test,” a set of criteria analyzing the representation of LGBT characters in film.

Learn more about the Vito Russo Test HERE


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