Joe Lawton

Alternative Voice

You might think a writer who specializes in one topic would feel limited, but that hasn’t happened to Michelangelo Signorile. He writes almost exclusively about the gay community, and has yet to run out of issues or enthusiasm. “The great thing about writing about the gay community is that it’s so diverse,” Signorile says. “It really gives me a broad perspective. I never get tired of writing about it.”
      Though Signorile is gay, he didn’t plan to spend his career reporting on gay life. “I expected to work at a mainstream news organization or public relations firm,” says the Newhouse graduate. He worked in public relations for a short time after college, but the explosion of AIDS among the gay population led him to change course.“With the AIDS crisis, I began to focus on gay politics,” he says. “It politicized a lot of people.”
     Signorile became a powerful voice for the gay community. He has written three books, including Queer in America: Sex, the Media, and the Closets of Power, and has done stints as a columnist and editor at the Advocate, OUT Magazine, and, currently, the web site His most well-known work involved the controversial practice of “outing,” reporting on the homosexuality of closeted public figures. It’s a practice for which Signorile has been both praised and vilified, but he’s “proud of being at the forefront of something that has changed journalism,” he says.
     Signorile emphasizes that he has never advocated the indiscriminate outing of gays and lesbians, especially those who are not public figures. But he favors reporting truthfully on a person’s sexuality when it’s relevant, or when the person can affect policy toward the gay community. He stresses that he, or any other reporter, would use the same guidelines in deciding whether to include personal details about a straight subject for a story.
     At the moment, Signorile is taking a temporary detour from his usual beat to write a book about Staten Island, where he grew up. “I have a lot of interests and I want to explore them all,” he says. “But I will always consider reporting on the gay community my first calling.”

—Cynthia Moritz

The elusive cat—both revered and demonized throughout the course of human history—has become one of the animals most important to helping scientists understand human genetics. Marilyn Menotti-Raymond is among a group of scientists studying and developing a map of the cat genome at the National Cancer Institute’s internationally renowned Laboratory of Genomic Diversity (LGD) in Frederick, Maryland. Part of the National Institutes of Health, it is the only research laboratory in the world attempting this work. “We are a cat genome center,” Menotti-Raymond says. “We have 15 researchers working on many aspects of the cat genome, from constructing genetic maps of the cat to research in natural populations of exotic felids.”
     It turns out that cats and humans have much in common in terms of how their genes are ordered and organized, Menotti-Raymond says. Cats have 19 pairs of chromosomes, including one pair of sex chromosomes; humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes, including one pair of sex chromosomes. “If you align human and cat chromosomes, the gene order and organization are more alike than with any other mammalian species whose genomes have been examined, except for some of the primate species,” she says. Because of the similarities, scientists believe it will be easier to identify hereditary diseases caused by defects in genes that are analogous to both cats and humans. In doing so, researchers hope to establish the cat as a useful model to further the understanding of some 200 human hereditary diseases; tumorous conditions called neoplasia; genetic factors related to infectious diseases; and mammalian genome evolution.
     At LGD, Menotti-Raymond is a staff scientist in the animal genetics group, where she works with five other researchers and several graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. “The work can sometimes be frustrating,” she says. “You have to like the process and be satisfied with the pursuit of knowledge.”
     Menotti-Raymond’s career took an unusual turn when a cat became a key part of a murder case on Prince Edward Island, Canada. In 1994, Shirley Duguay, a 32-year-old mother of five, disappeared. Her body was found in a shallow grave a few months later. Among the chief suspects in the murder was the woman’s estranged common-law husband, Douglas Beamish, who was living nearby in his parents’ home. Royal Canadian Mounted Police had no evidence linking Beamish to the crime. During the search for the victim’s body, however, the Mounties discovered a plastic bag containing a leather jacket with blood stains that matched the victim’s blood. The jacket also contained 27 strands of white hair, which forensic investigators determined were from a cat. The Mounties remembered a white cat named Snowball living in Beamish’s parents’ home. The trick was to prove the cat hair found in the jacket was Snowball’s.

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