He was born in South Godstone and studied history and modern languages at Magdalen College, Oxford. He later took a master's degree at Harvard, remaining in the USA where he edited The New Republic.
In 1995 he was included in the Independent's list of 40 influential gay men. The citation said:
- "Gay men of most political hues were puzzled by the ecstatic critical reaction won by Sullivan's essay, "Virtually Normal: An Argument About Homosexuality". They had been debating the same stuff (bigotry, equality, gay marriage) for decades without attracting media attention. But then Sullivan is unusual: the openly gay editor of a leading US political magazine, The New Republic. His credentials have earned him a hearing in arenas previously deaf to gay concerns; he has a power to persuade as well as plead."
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