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News from the front lines of the AIDS fight

December 1, 2016
masthead from The Empty Closet newspaperRiver Campus Libraries is home to an online and searchable archive of the Empty Closet, the oldest continuously published gay newspaper in the United States.

From the earliest days when a yet unknown and unidentified disease found its first victims in America’s gay communities, through the years of intense political and social activism for funding and research, to the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, and the news that basketball star Magic Johnson had contracted HIV, the Empty Closet chronicled it all.

The paper was begun at the University of Rochester by Bob Osborn and Larry Fine, the founders of the University student group, Rochester Gay Liberation Front, and later transferred to the Gay Alliance of the Genesee Valley (GAGV).

In 2010, the Empty Closet celebrated its 40th year of continuous publication. As it always has, the newspaper covers local, state, national and international news, as well as issues pertaining to the LGBT community.

For as long as it has been published, the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections has been collecting, preserving, and archiving the Empty Closet. It was from these copies that preservation microfilm of the journal was created. Funding for the microfilming was provided as part of a grant from the New York State Program for the Conservation and Preservation of Library Research Materials. The digitization of the microfilm was paid for by the Gay Alliance.

Current issues of the Empty Closet may be found here:

From the archives

You can browse the University’s online collection of the Empty Closet at

scanned image of newspaper clipping

1981 September. Article does not explicitly mention AIDS, but references a “gay pneumonia” and a “gay cancer” that are being studied by the CDC.


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1982 April. Reports that 99 people have died in the last seven months, including heterosexuals and non-drug users.


newspaper clipping

1982 October. In this front page story, the term AIDS is used in the paper for the first time.


newspaper clipping

1983 March. Reports that there have now been nearly 1,000 cases of AIDS and 350 deaths, as the Gay Rights National Lobby works to secure federal research funding.


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1983 December. AIDS Task Force formed in Monroe County, with the goal of education high-risk groups, health professionals, and the general public.


newspaper clipping

1984 May. Front page story reports on the CDC discovery of the virus that causes AIDS. In the article it’s called HTLV-3. “AIDS has killed 1,758 Americans since it first appeared in the United States three years ago.”


newspaper clipping

1988 November. Front page story on the AIDS Memorial Quilt project in Washington.


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1991 December. First mention of Magic Johnson, who announced he was HIV positive on November 7, 1991. Most of the articles in this issue express frustration that the disease is now only being taken seriously and sensitively because a famous heterosexual individual contracted it.

Related stories:

“I remember the courage with which they faced the unknown.” December 1, 2016

8,000 posters, one collection December 1, 2016

Representing AIDS, then and now November 30, 2016

Magic Johnson’s HIV bombshell, 25 years later December 1, 2016

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Category: Student Life