“There is so much that has to change from that baked in discrimination to changing the thinking that the reason that people think that people aren’t healthy is because they are Black or poor.” Linda Villarosa.
Linda Villarosa is an acclaimed journalist, author, and college professor passionate about LGBTQ+/SGL and other social justice issues and physical and emotional health.
Linda Villarosa was born in Chicago, Illinois, on January 9, 1959. Her father, Andres Villarosa, worked in housing and veterans affairs for the federal government. Her mother, Clara Villarosa, started as a psychiatric social worker and hospital administrator before finding her passion as an entrepreneur. Villarosa and her parents and sister, Alicia, lived with her grandparents on the South Side of Chicago. Her great-aunt May, a retired teacher, taught Villarosa to read and planted the idea that she could become a writer when she grew up.
In the late 60s, the Villarosa family moved to Denver, where Villarosa attended Rose A. Stein Elementary School in Lakewood, Colorado, then Alameda Junior High. She was president of the senior class at Alameda High School, played basketball, and edited the literary publication. Villarosa also ran the hurdles and won the county high jump championship.
Villarosa attended the University of California Irvine on a partial track scholarship before transferring to the University of Colorado Boulder. She studied journalism as a Scripps-Howard scholar, minored in Black Studies and Spanish, and spent a semester in southern Spain. Villarosa also played on the college soccer team. In her sophomore year, she fell in love with her female English instructor and realized she was a lesbian.
Villarosa wrote an essay that landed her an internship in New York City at CBS magazines during her junior year. She lived in the dorms at New York University and enjoyed exploring the city with its LGBTQ+ and multicultural communities. After her graduation in 1981, CBS hired Villarosa, and she moved to New York for an entry-level position.
Villarosa held writing and editing positions at several other magazines, but her dream was to work at “Essence” magazine. As a freelancer in the mid-1980s, she wrote the first story about HIV/AIDS for an ethnic publication, and the editor-in-chief at “Essence Magazine” Susan L. Taylor, hired her as the magazine’s health editor in 1987. Villarosa won several awards and honors covering heart disease, environmental justice, and health care inequality. In 1990, Harvard selected her as a communications fellow at its school of public health.
Despite career success and finding a home at “Essence,” Villarosa wasn’t happy. She felt she didn’t fit into the magazine’s culture of disclosure and “sharing” because she hadn’t told anyone on staff she was a lesbian. Finally, while in a car with Susan Taylor driving back to the city from a work retreat, she blurted out, “I’m a lesbian.” Because of the warmth and acceptance Ms. Taylor showed her, on the following Monday, Linda invited in just about everyone she worked with and was met with the same kindness.
The following year, the staff encouraged her to share her inviting in story in the magazine. With her mother, Villarosa wrote about falling in love with a woman and the challenges her mother faced moving from denial and anger to unconditional love and acceptance.
In May 1991, “Essence” published their story, “Coming Out,” to huge acclaim and hate mail. It won many awards and remains one of the most responded to and memorable articles in the magazine’s nearly 50-year history.
After the inviting-in story, Villarosa was promoted to executive editor of “Essence.” In 1995, the magazine excerpted her essay “Revelations” from “Afrekete: An Anthology of Black Lesbian Writing.” The piece looked at LGBTQ+ spirituality and homophobia in the Black community through Villarosa’s lens, garnering mostly praise but also shock and anger from the publication’s readership, partially due to the cover line: A Lesbian Takes on the Bible.
In 1994, Villarosa published her first book, “Body & Soul: the Black Women’s Guide to Physical Health and Emotional Well-being,” with over 200,000 copies. She later wrote and co-authored many other books, including a teen girl and parenting guides.
As executive editor of “Essence,” Villarosa worked with writers like bell hooks, Bebe Moore Campbell, Nikky Finney, E. Lynn Harris, June Jordan, Audre Lorde, Terry McMillan, and Iyanla Vanzant. But after so many years at the magazine, she became restless and left in 1997 to become the health editor of “The New York Times.”
Later, as a contributing reporter for the “Times” during the early 2000s, Villarosa wrote several stories about HIV/AIDS, and two of them ended up on the front page of the newspaper. She also attended her first International HIV/AIDS conference in Barcelona and has since trained journalists and reported on HIV/AIDS news for U.S. ethnic publications as a conference volunteer in Barcelona, Bangkok, Toronto, Mexico City, Vienna, Melbourne, and Durban.
Villarosa’s daughter, Kali, was born in 1996, and her son, Nicolas, was born in 1999. During the mid-2000s, Villarosa cut back on her work to spend time with her children. She also met her partner, Jana, during this period. The two have been together for 18 years, raising the children along with the children’s father, her mother and sister, and a tight-knit community of close friends.
While working from home—and thanks to community and family support—Villarosa wrote her first novel, “Passing for Black,” nominated for a 2008 Lambda Literary Award.
In 2010, Villarosa became the journalism program director at the City College of New York in Harlem. She went back to school and finished her master’s degree at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism in 2013, where she focused on multimedia storytelling, urban reporting, and entrepreneurial journalism.
In 2014, Villarosa teamed up with her mother and sister to launch Villarosa Media, a boutique publishing company. Their first book, “The Wind Is Spirit: The Life, Love, and Legacy of Audre Lorde” by Dr. Gloria Joseph, won a 2016 Lambda Literary Award. Their second book, “The Marriage Battle: A Family Tradition” by Susan Green and Robin Phillips, was published in December 2017. Linda is also the chair of the board of the Feminist Press.
Her June 2017 article, “America’s Hidden HIV Epidemic,” ran on the cover of “The New York Times Magazine,” where Villarosa is a contributing writer. The story looked at HIV/AIDS among Black gay men in the South and was one of the publication’s most popular articles of the year.
Villarosa contributed to The New York Times Magazine The 1619 Project, an award-winning reframing of American history that places slavery and its continuing legacy at the center of our national narrative. The project was launched in August 2019 and helped explain the persistence of anti-Black racism and inequality in America today. Villarosa’s piece is titled “Myths about physical racial differences were used to justify slavery- and are still believed by doctors today.”
Her newest book, Under The Skin: The Hidden Tool of Racism on American Lives and on the Health of Our Nation, comes out on June 14, 2022.
Villarosa plays soccer most weekends and goes fishing whenever she can. Every Sunday, she has family dinner with her extended crew of children, friends, and godchildren.