West Hollywood was where Tim Blair first understood the magnitude of the AIDS crisis. It was the 1990s, and the Missouri native and public-relations professional had just moved to Los Angeles. Spending time in “WeHo,” a gay center, he saw more and more seats left empty in cafés and restaurants that healthy patrons used to crowd. Gay men his age confessed they didn’t want new friends because they were afraid they’d lose them to the disease. The shadow of AIDS touched everyone.
First discovered in 1981, AIDS would claim nearly 90,000 lives by the end of the decade. By the close of the century, it would take 340,000 more.
“We wouldn’t know about gay people if not for AIDS. The government wasn’t talking about it; it was the journalists,” says Blair, BJ ’73. “On the backs of those who died, there is a movement to give lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender [LGBT] people equal rights.”
A First-of-Its-Kind Donation
To study the link between media coverage and the advancement of human rights for LGBT people, Blair pledged $1 million from his estate to create the Timothy D. Blair Fund for LGBT Coverage in Journalism. The first-of-its-kind gift, announced April 24 in the Student Center, will support faculty and students in the School of Journalism who study journalism’s role in shaping perceptions about gender, AIDS, same-sex marriage and related issues — “topics that, historically, have been under-covered or covered badly,” says Dean Mills, outgoing School of Journalism dean.
Blair's family has been connected to the University of Missouri for seven generations. His great-uncle Morris Harris, BJ ’21, covered China from the 1920s through the 1940s with a cadre of other J-School alumni, documenting the rise of communism. Their coverage gave Westerners a broader perspective. “We can look back at China and say, ‘This was the panorama of history.’”
That kind of perspective doesn’t exist, Blair says, for the civil- and human-rights movements of the past 50 years. He hopes his gift can help fill the void.
“I’m 63 years old. I don’t know many [gay] men my age who are alive today,” Blair said at his gift announcement. “It’s a demographic gone from the gay community. It’s a story to talk about. I don’t think we have perspective yet, but I don’t think there’s anyone who can do it better than the Missouri School of Journalism.”