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By Steve Friess, on behalf of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association
Leroy F. Aarons, the former Oakland Tribune executive editor who founded the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) in his living room and grew it into a force in American journalism, died at 70 late Nov. 28 after a 10-month battle with cancer.
Aarons, who lived with his partner of 24 years, Joshua Boneh, in Sebastopol, Calif., died of heart failure at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Santa Rosa, Calif. He is also survived by a brother, Ronald Aarons of Boulder, Colo.
An accomplished journalist who spent 14 years as a reporter and editor at the Washington Post, Aarons sent shockwaves through the news industry in 1990 when he emotionally acknowledged that he was gay at a conference of the American Society of Newspaper Editors. That announcement, which came at the end of a speech in which he also unveiled results of a landmark survey of gay and lesbian journalists that showed most were unhappy with their professional treatment and coverage of gay issues, served as the catalyst for Aarons’ formation of the NLGJA. Never before had a top editor of a major newspaper come out so publicly.
“I had no idea it would be such a big deal until I was at that podium in New York about to say it,” Aarons recalled in an interview at his home in October. “Other people knew it was a big deal, but I don’t think I got it until The New York Times wrote about it.”
Times Publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. called Aarons “an important force in journalism” and credited Aarons and NLGJA with a sea change in how the media in general and his newspaper in particular handled gay issues.
ABC News Senior Vice President Robert Murphy, who is gay, also recalled Aarons’ impact fondly. “Personally I will remember him as a mentor and friend who taught us the value of the contribution we could make to our newsrooms as openly gay journalists.”
Today, the NLGJA has more than 1,200 members and chapters in 24 regions in the United States as well as affiliates in Canada and Germany.