Trailblazing lesbian journalist who opened America’s eyes to LGBT+ lives dies aged 62

Patrick Kelleher
·4-min read

Deb Price, a trailblazing lesbian journalist who helped open America’s eyes to LGBT+ lives, has died aged 62.

Price made history when she started writing a column for the Detroit News in 1992 exclusively focusing on gay issues, becoming the first columnist nationwide to do so.

The legendary journalist died on 20 November in Hong Kong from interstitial pneumonitis, an autoimmune condition that causes damage to the lungs.

Price’s wife, Joyce Murdoch, told the Bay Area Reporter that she was diagnosed with the condition 13-years-ago and that it “gradually diminished her lung capacity”.

Murdoch said Price “lived life fully” and continued working at the South China Morning Post right up until she was hospitalised in September as her condition worsened.

There has been an outpouring of grief after trailblazing lesbian journalist Deb Price died.

There has been an outpouring of grief from those who knew and loved Price, with many former co-workers and editors praising her as a trailblazing figure unafraid to tackle LGBT+ issues in her work.

Bob Giles, the editor and publisher who commissioned Price’s first gay-themed column, told the Detroit News: “She gave us a stack [of columns] that were really well done and they seemed to fit into the idea that it was a changing world and Deb had a capacity for expressing that.”

Reflecting on her incredible legacy, Joshua Benton, founder of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University, wrote on Twitter: “I am very sorry to report the death of Deb Price, a tremendous journalist, a Nieman Fellow (Class of 2011), and a real trailblazer for LGBTQ people in newsrooms and around the country.”

Benton said it was “hard to overestimate” how significant her column was.

“This was long before the internet gave Americans a window into any topic or community they wanted. Most people got a huge share of their information about the world from the local daily and local TV news.

“Most Americans in 1992 said they didn’t know a single gay person. Then suddenly there was Deb, on the breakfast table next to the sports section.

“She wasn’t just running in New York City and San Francisco, either – she was reaching people in red states too.”

Your brave work impacted many in ways you might never have imagined. A life well-lived.

Benton shared images of just some of the abuse Price received in letters to the editor written in response to her column, with one reader saying she was “breaking God’s laws”, while another said the newspaper was “morally wrong” to publish her words.

However, he also shared letters written to the editor showing the love LGBT+ readers showed her, while other straight readers thanked the newspaper for educating them on a topic they had not previously understood.

Dana Nessel, attorney general of Michigan, also mourned Price’s death, writing on Twitter: “I was one of your regular readers. Thank you for making me feel less alone and hopeful for a world that might one day embrace LGBTQ people instead of loathing us.

“Your brave work impacted many in ways you might never have imagined. A life well-lived.”

Nate Hurst, a political journalist, also heaped praise on Price’s legacy, writing: “Deb Price was the first coworker I came out to – before I had the courage to tell my friends and family. She also showed me the ropes on Capitol Hill. Deb was a fierce reporter, a humble trailblazer, and an unstoppable force for good in the world.

“She is very much missed.”

Price and her wife later compiled her columns and published them in a book titled And Say Hi to Joyce. They dedicated the book to “all the gay readers who’ve put 25 cents in a newspaper box and found nothing reflecting their own lives inside.”

Speaking to Associated Press in 1992 about her first column, Price said she asked readers how she should “introduce Joyce” to others. A reader suggested that she should introduce Joyce as her “partner in perversity”.

“I think it’s really important for me to remember (and) for other people to remember that if there weren’t hostility and if there weren’t misunderstandings about gay people, there would be no point in doing this column,” she said at the time.