“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, who died of an autoimmune lung disease on Nov. 20 at age 62, 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.”
Her work paved the way for columns by lesbian writers such as Victoria Brownworth of the Philadelphia Daily News, who said in a phone interview that Ms. Price’s “real contribution, more even than her writing itself, was making straight people comfortable with lesbians.”
“I hate using words like this,” she added, “but she normalized and made our lives ordinary, as opposed to something perverse and strange and outré. She made it very clear that queer people were just like straight people, except for the people they love.”
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.” The book included commentary by Murdoch and a selection of readers’ letters, including hate mail from conservatives who argued that the Bible condemned homosexuality.
Ms. Price, the daughter of an Episcopal priest, cited her own verses from Scripture in countering those arguments.
“This issue of being a lightning rod for hate, it is hard,” she once told the Minnesota Star Tribune. “But I think, ‘Wait a minute, I could be printing the telephone book, and they’d do this.’ It isn’t me, but it’s a symptom of the misunderstanding of gay people.”
Deborah Jane Price was born in Lubbock, Tex., on Feb. 27, 1958. After her parents divorced in 1973, she moved to Bethesda, Md., with her brother and mother, who worked as a receptionist at a law firm and remained “enormously supportive,” in Ms. Price’s telling, after she came out.
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.
Ms. Price received GLAAD Media Awards for coverage of LGBTQ issues and was inducted into the LGBTQ Journalists Hall of Fame in 2009, shortly before retiring her column.
Landing it in the first place was almost like winning a $20 million lottery jackpot, she told interviewers. Whenever it was published in a new city, she celebrated by pinning a small flag on a U.S. map.
“Sometimes everything in your life falls together,” she told the Star Tribune. “And when you have something that’s so much bigger than you, you can be more than you thought you could be.”