Deb Price: “Bridging a gap between the gay and heterosexual communities, to get an open and honest dialogue started.”

From a Washington Post obit by Harrison Smith headlined “Deb Price, first nationally syndicated columnist on gay life, dies at 62”:

Appearing in the Detroit News in 1992, Deb Price’s debut column ended with a question that spurred a flood of letters from readers and vaulted her to national attention: “So tell me, America, how do I introduce Joyce?”

Ms. Price, a 34-year-old editor who helped lead the News’s Washington bureau, was referring to Joyce Murdoch, “the woman I’ve lived with for six years.” “Partner” was not yet a standard term for gay coupledom, and she was struggling to find the right words to describe a person who, she noted, could be variously called her “girlfriend,” “significant other,” “longtime companion,” “life partner” or “lover.”

“Maybe we should seize a word, as we did with ‘gay,’ and make it ours,” Ms. Price wrote. “Or is it simply part of gay culture to have a love that answers to many names?”

The column heralded Ms. Price as the first nationally syndicated columnist on gay life and introduced the mainstream media’s first weekly column written from a gay perspective. And it arrived at a critical point for many gay journalists.

Through the AIDS crisis and the gay rights movement, the tapestry of gay life in the United States was simply news, and it was not always covered with nuance. A few media outlets openly recruited gay journalists to their staffs, while in other newsrooms, some journalists felt jobs were closed to them because they were openly gay.

“Being in the closet is a real mistake for a journalist,” Ms. Price once told The Washington Post, where she was a copy editor before joining the News in 1989. “It’s an asset for a newspaper to have openly gay journalists in the same way that having African Americans or Hispanics or people with disabilities is an asset.”

Ms. Price wrote 900 columns during the next 18 years, with a mission “to bridge a gap between the gay and heterosexual communities, to get an open and honest dialogue started.”. . .

Ms. Price was not the first columnist to write about gay life, a subject that had received extensive coverage by alternative media outlets for decades. But her work exposed gay issues to a much broader audience, amid an ongoing debate in mainstream newsrooms about diversity in hiring and news coverage.

As a columnist, Ms. Price emphasized “the importance of being out” and wrote widely about gay parents, gay people in the military and her own life as a lesbian in the D.C. suburbs, where she and Murdoch celebrated their 10th anniversary as a couple by getting turned down for a marriage license.

“For most gay couples, the benefits of domestic bliss are intangible,” she once wrote. “We watch our siblings get eight silver trays, 12 pickle forks, a fondue pot and a trip to Hawaii for settling down. And then our relatives give us a hard time or nothing at all.”

After Ms. Price and Murdoch succeeded in getting married, in a 2003 ceremony at Toronto’s city hall, their wedding announcement became the first by a same-sex couple to run in The Washington Post, which traditionally published same-sex civil union notices on a “Celebrations” page. It was considered one of the first same-sex wedding announcements to appear in a major paper.

Many of Ms. Price’s early pieces were collected in a book, “And Say Hi to Joyce” (1995), which was “dedicated to all the gay readers who’ve put twenty-five cents in a newspaper box and found nothing reflecting their own lives inside.”. . .

Ms. Price graduated from the National Cathedral School in Washington and studied literature at Stanford University, where she received bachelor’s and master’s degrees, both in 1981. She was a reporter at the Northern Virginia Sun and States News Service before joining The Washington Post in 1984, and soon met Murdoch, a fellow Post editor.

They became the first registered domestic partners in Takoma Park, Md., in 1993, according to their wedding announcement, and were united in a civil union in Vermont in 2000. Together they wrote “Courting Justice: Gay Men and Lesbians v. the Supreme Court” (2001), which earned a Lambda Literary Award and was praised by a Kirkus reviewer as a “crackerjack resource volume on gay legal history.”

Following a Nieman journalism fellowship at Harvard University in 2011, Ms. Price shifted her focus to Asia, where she reported from Hong Kong for the Wall Street Journal, ran the English-language newsroom of Caixin, a Beijing-based publication, and worked as a senior business editor at the South China Morning Post.

She died at a hospital in Hong Kong, said Murdoch, her sole immediate survivor.

Harrison Smith is a reporter on The Washington Post’s obituaries desk. Since joining the obituaries section in 2015, he has profiled big-game hunters, fallen dictators and Olympic champions. He sometimes covers the living as well, and previously co-founded the South Side Weekly, a community newspaper in Chicago.

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