Lesbian journalist Deb Price, who wrote the first column on LGBTQ+ issues to be nationally syndicated in mainstream newspapers, has died at age 62.
Price died November 20 at a hospital in Hong Kong, according to The Bay Area Reporter. Her wife, Joyce Murdoch, told the paper Price died of interstitial pneumonitis, an autoimmune lung disease with which she was diagnosed nine years ago. She had kept working until a few days before she was admitted to the hospital September 3.
Price was based in Hong Kong as senior business editor for the South China Morning Post and had a long career in journalism both in the U.S. and Asia, but she is best known in the LGBTQ+ community for her column, which she began writing in 1992 for The Detroit News when she was working in the paper’s Washington, D.C., bureau. Her first column asked readers, “How do I introduce Joyce?” The column was syndicated to newspapers around the U.S. and continued for 18 years.
“It’s hard to overestimate how significant this was,” Joshua Benton, founder of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University, wrote on Twitter. “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.”
Price received “both hate mail and emotional letters of support” for the column, The Detroit News notes. But she took it in stride. “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,” Price told the Associated Press in 1992.
“She felt really honored to be able to do what she did,” Murdoch said, according to the News. “She was not singing to the choir — she was singing to people who had not heard a voice like hers before. She was making a difference slowly, week by week, in how they saw things.”
Price received a Nieman Fellowship in 2011, and she gave up her column in order to focus on fellowship work related to China. Her journalism career also included stints at The Washington Post, Agence France-Presse, The Wall Street Journal, and other outlets. She taught journalism at Harvard University’s summer school and wrote several books, including two with Murdoch, a fellow journalist: And Say Hi to Joyce: America’s First Gay Column Comes Out and Courting Justice: Gay Men and Lesbians v. the Supreme Court. The latter won a Lambda Literary Award. Price received many other honors, and in 2009 NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ Journalists inducted her into its Hall of Fame.
Price and Murdoch met at The Washington Post, and in 1993 they became the first same-sex couple to have a registered domestic partnership in Takoma Park, Md., where they lived at the time. They then had a civil union in Vermont in 2000 and married in Toronto in 2003. They were the first same-sex couple to have their marriage featured on the Post’s weddings page.
“Deb lived energetically, optimistically, bravely, and fully,” Murdoch wrote on Facebook. “Her 18 years as a groundbreaking gay columnist changed lives, healed families, and helped our nation progress toward being a more perfect union.”
“She was the center of my universe,” Murdoch added. “So much of what I’ve achieved personally and professionally was possible because Deb believed in me, encouraged me, loved me. For 35 years we were a helluva team. She will live on in my heart forevermore.”