December 12, 2011 at 1:59 pm EDT | by Phil Reese
Veteran gay journalist Varnell dead at 70
Paul Varnell

Paul Varnell, 70. (Washington Blade file photo)

A long-time gay journalist, Paul Varnell — whose column appeared in the Washington Blade for years — died from complications of stroke and pneumonia, according to the Windy City Times.

Varnell became an LGBT activist and writer in Chicago in the early 1980s. He was a prominent HIV/AIDS activist during the pandemic’s early days which led Dr. Bernard Turnock, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, to appoint Varnell to the AIDS Interdisciplinary Advisory Committee in 1985, pushing for widespread testing, along with advocating for confidentiality. According to the Windy City Times, “Varnell argued that knowing their status could help gay men make better decisions about their health and sexual activity.”

Varnell’s activism led to his publishing of a regular column for the Windy City Times which later became syndicated, running in many major LGBT papers, including the Washington Blade.

In 1989, Varnell teamed up with Rex Wockner of the ‘Outlines’ newspaper to attempt to get a marriage license at the Cook County marriage bureau, which they were denied. The two journalists made news when they filed a human rights complaint through the Illinois Human Rights Department alleging discrimination.

Varnell continued to publish intellectual, no-nonsense essays until very recently when his health declined. His columns were popular and controversial, often eliciting strong responses for the newspapers that carried the articles.

“We published Paul Varnell’s columns for years in the Blade and he was always professional and kind,” said Washington Blade editor Kevin Naff. “I enjoyed our conversations and debates of the issues of the day and always found Paul fair and smart and our readers appreciated and responded to his informed libertarian views. The LGBT movement will miss him.”


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