Michelangelo Signorile grew up in Brooklyn and on Staten Island in the 1960s and 1970s. He attended the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, where he studied journalism.
In the mid-80s, Signorile became a publicist for an entertainment public relations firm. He began to see how the celebrity closet was often kept tightly shut by publicists, editors, columnists and others who thought it was unseemly — or financially risky — for public figures to be open about their sexual orientation, even if those public figures wanted to be out themselves.
By the late 80s, Signorile became involved in gay politics and AIDS activism, running the media committee of the direct action group ACT UP in New York and helping to publicize protests and bring attention to the life-threatening issues surrounding AIDS. Soon thereafter, Signorile became a co-founding editor and columnist of the now-defunct OutWeek magazine — a lively New York City lesbian and gay weekly — writing often about how invisibility and the closet were hurting the gay movement and adversely affecting the AIDS epidemic. It was during that time when he found himself at the center of the often misunderstood and highly volatile issue that Time magazine unfortunately coined “outing."
The jumping off point for much of the controversy was an OutWeek cover story that Signorile wrote in 1990 about the then recently-deceased multi-millionaire and publishing tycoon Malcolm Forbes. Forbes was known to many in his social circles as gay, but his homosexuality was never reported in the media. When Forbes died, he was held by many conservatives as a great American capitalist. Signorile felt that the historical record also needed to show that he was homosexual. He interviewed many people who knew Forbes as gay, some of them men who had been intimately involved with Forbes. Signorile's editor, Gabriel Rotello, wrote a defense of the story, describing it as proper, ethical journalism.
Highlighting just how controversial it was at that time to report on the undeclared homosexuality of even a public figure that was dead — let alone living — many newspapers viewed Signorile's Forbes story as shocking and scandalous, and it took months for some papers to report on it. The New York Times reported on it four months after the fact in a story about “outing,” and still would not name Forbes, only saying that a “recently deceased businessman” had been “outed.” (Years later, the paper would finally report that Forbes was “gay,” in a story about his son Steve Forbes’ run for the presidency.)
Signorile contended throughout that time that the homosexuality of public figures — and only public figures — should be reported on when relevant to a larger story (and only when relevant). Though that now seems reasonable and rational to many, and is in fact how most of the media approaches the issue today, at that time such a position was attacked and often distorted.
In 1991, Signorile joined The Advocate as a columnist, and in 1993, his ground-breaking Queer in America: Sex, the Media, and the Closets of Power was published by Random House. Two years later, after he joined Out Magazine as a columnist, Signorile wrote Outing Yourself. This 14-step program soon became a guiding light for thousands in their own personal struggle with coming out. In 1995, Signorile wrote the acclaimed bestseller Life Outside: The Signorile Report on Gay Men, which was a finalist for the New York Public Library Book Award for Excellence in Journalism.
In the mid-nineties, Signorile returned to The Advocate as an editor-at-large and roving columnist for several years. In 1998, Signorile became an example of the Web's global implications when he began commuting between New York and the pristine, Scottish-settled city of Dunedin, on the bottom of New Zealand's South Island (sometimes called the Riviera of the Antarctic). His partner David, a film studies professor, had taken a two-year position at a university there. Signorile spent two months at a time in New Zealand and New York respectively, working off his laptop and his Bosch World Phone, writing and reporting for the international network of sites connected through Gay.com as he traveled back and forth. During that time, Signorile also hosted a weekly radio show, broadcast online on GAYBC.com radio, reporting from around the world.
Many of Signorile's stories over the years have sparked debate and inspired discussion. His 1991 Advocate cover story on the Pentagon's purging of gay personnel — while one of its assistant secretaries of defense, Pete Williams, was gay and appeared to be accepted as such by then President George Bush and then Defense Secretary Dick Cheney — created headlines around the world, forced Cheney to concede the antigay policy was "an old chestnut," and was later referred to by candidate Bill Clinton when he promised at a fundraiser to dismantle the antigay policy if elected president. An essay Signorile wrote in Out magazine in 1994 about the breakdown in safer sex among gay men was reprinted on the op-ed page of The New York Times and inspired a "60 Minutes" segment in which Signorile was profiled.
Signorile has spoken at dozens of colleges and universities, including Yale, Princeton, Duke, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Northwestern, Oberlin College, Brown, Syracuse, the University of Pennsylvania, Vanderbilt, Stanford, the University of Texas at Austin and Dartmouth College. Signorile has been interviewed on scores of talk radio programs, and has appeared on many television programs, including "Today," "Good Morning America," "Larry King Live," "60 Minutes," "48 Hours," "The O'Reilly Factor," "Fox News Watch," and various MTV and VH1 programs.
Currently, Signorile hosts a radio show weekdays (2-6 p.m. ET) on Sirius Satellite Radio's OutQ. Signorile has also written for a wide array of other publications, including The New York Times, USA Today, Newsday, The New York Observer, Gay.com, New York magazine and The Village Voice. He lives in New York City with his partner, David, and their pit bull, Gina.