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. 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. 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 has been an editor-at-large and columnist for The Advocate, and a columnist for Out Magazine. He has written for many newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, USA Today, and The Los Angeles Times, and has appeared on many American television news programs, including Larry King Live, The Today Show, and Good Morning America. His magazine articles, newspaper columns and website 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 marriage for same-sex couples.
Currently, Signorile hosts a radio program, The Michelangelo Signorile Show, which can be heard exclusively on Sirius Satellite Radio's OutQ channel, and which airs each weekday from 2-6 ET. The show has a potential radio audience of more than 6 million, which is the number of subscribers Sirius Satellite Radio has reported, and is also heard worldwide on the Internet. 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.
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 (journalist), 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, attending parties and movie premieres and reporting on nightlife for the now-defunct New York Nightlife magazine. 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.
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.
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, and other performers, such as the comedian Andrew Dice Clay, who'd made slurs against gays. Signorile saw it as relevant to discuss Geffen's closeted homosexuality in that context. Signorile also outed the gossip columnist Liz Smith (journalist) (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 very media and celebrity culture that Signorile vilified soon 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 magazine 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 amplified dramatically 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. In an 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, 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).
Signorile joined the The Advocate, soon after OutWeek folded in 1991, with a cover story that put him at the center of a firestorm over gays in the military as well as outing, when he outed then-assistant Secretary of Defense Pete Williams, under Defense Secretary Dick Cheney during George H.W.Bush's administration. (Williams has since gone on to become a television journalist for NBC News). The outing caused 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.
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