Where would we be without Larry Kramer? In all of history there are few people the gay world needed more than him. Thank God we had him when we needed him! He did it all and at the perfect time and when gay men most were backed into a corner he was behind ACTUP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), the first organization created to noisily demand action on HIV then there was GMHC, the first organization created to help people who were sick and dying and on to The Normal Heart, the first play to humanize the struggle to make that happen and so much more making him one of the most important gay men of the last 100 years
Larry was an American playwright, author, film producer, public health advocate, and LGBT rights activist. He began his career rewriting scripts while working for Columbia Pictures, which led him to London where he worked with United Artists. There he wrote the screenplay for the film Women in Love (1969) and received an Academy Award nomination for his work. Kramer was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for his play The Destiny of Me (1992), and he was a two-time recipient of the Obie Award. but his lifetime cause came with the AIDS epidemic and its treatment as ‘The Gay Disease’.
Yes, sexual liberation matters–a lot–when you’re a group of people oppressed because of your sexuality, but protest in the form of subversive sex will only take you so far, especially when a nasty little virus comes along that is unfortunately spread by sexual contact. The fight against AIDS was almost certainly not the only theme of Larry Kramer’s life but surely it was his crowning achievement–and the fight against AIDS (and malicious inaction) needed a serious guy like Larry Kramer or it would’ve suffered terribly; he was the best and as we said the right guy at the right time. ACTUP had teeth and balls. On March 24, 1987, 17 people out of 250 participating in a protest were arrested for blocking rush-hour traffic in front of the FDA’s Wall Street offices. Kramer was arrested dozens of times working with ACT UP, and the organization grew to hundreds of chapters in the US and Europe but best of all they were the protest group which got results – not only did they get them but they created them too through their own scientific channels and expertise and it all lead to the biggest single funding for research in history so that PrEP, Truvada or whatever you are on comes straight from the graft of the ACTUP guys, their brilliance, daring, sacrifices but most of all their Talisman leader Mr Larry Kramer.
Larry Kramer was basically the New York response to the crashing tidal wave of AIDS when it first hit: angry, confrontational but more direct than the nicer, less confrontational but more indirect San Francisco way of dealing with it. He was ACTUP staging a die-in at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and pressuring the same Anthony Fauci leading the current fight against a pandemic 40 years later that you hear about in the news today as opposed to the more softly approach of the AIDS Quilt grieving those already dead and holding candle light vigils.
I grew up and came out in suburban New York during the late 80s, and Larry Kramer was guiding me along the way in the awful fight against AIDS and as a gay man, though I wasn’t really aware of it. In 1987, I saw a production of “The Normal Heart”, written by Larry Kramer, at my college, Rutgers University, just as I was coming out–and when AIDS cases were still doubling every 12 months. I can still vividly remember Dr. Emma Brookner in her wheelchair in a rage as she demanded that apathetic doctors do something about this terrible growing epidemic. In 1990 I attended an ACTUP protest in Manhattan, ACTUP being an organization he helped found (and which I became aware of because of that die-in), during a visit of then-president George H. W. Bush. I acted as a referee to form a boundary between the marchers and people on the sidewalks who might start trouble. During training sessions for this job I learned that sometimes people with bad intentions–read: law enforcement–might try to start conflict in order to make the protesters look bad. So Larry Kramer helped teach me (more than I already knew, anyway) that even during a lethal epidemic some of the people who are supposed to help you…aren’t. A year later I helped raise money at a dance-a-thon for Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), the first organization in the world founded to help people with HIV, another organization Kramer helped create. He wasn’t just about anger. He was about adult action. At the dance, where Queen Latifah rapped, I saw for the first time huge numbers of gay men and women who weren’t white, college students.
So there he was guiding me in what was a rite of passage for young gay men coming out in the early years of AIDS, educating me and giving me places where I could use my youthful energy to help the dying and to make a better future for myself and others.
He took a lot of heat for it at times.
Larry Kramer made his first noisy mark in the gay world with Faggots, a book about the hedonistic lifestyle of largely closeted gay men with wealth and privilege living in New York who he believed should be doing more to further gay rights. It did not make him many friends no doubt, but it showed that he was a serious guy even before AIDS, someone who understood that you can’t fuck your way to being treated like decent human beings, no matter how good it feels. This rift among gay men still exists to some degree, of course: sex as a subversive act, being outrageous and fabulous versus winning heterosexuals over by being respectable and married. Do we dance in gold lamé g-strings on Pride floats and walk down main street in chaps with no jeans so our naked asses stick out, or do we march in uniform t-shirts representing the choir in our gay-friendly church? There is, or should be, room for both but in the early years of AIDS we needed the t-shirts more than the asses hanging out. And it took guys like Larry Kramer to make it happen. It took Larry Kramer to make it happen.
When AIDS hit he was there, a loudly opinionated New Yorker, a refugee originally from Connecticut who fled the cold, gay-hating hell that suburbia was in those days for the safety of the village, and who became more New York than even those born and raised there. He shouted and he persisted and he was listened to because he was right. And he was desperately needed. How many of us are alive today in no small way because of Larry Kramer? If you got through the 80s and 90s alive thank Larry Kramer. If you take meds for HIV or to prevent HIV thank Larry Kramer. If you’re married thank Larry Kramer. Just thank him. Thank God we had him when we needed him…..he was a legend, he is a legend and will be for eternity to gay men and gay rights.
Larry Kramer the man, the myth, the activist and incredible writer died from pneumonia on May 27, 2020, at age 84, less than a month short of his 85th birthday during the heart of the Covid 19 crisis which was the subject of his last unfinished work, a play ‘An Army Of Lovers Must Not Die’. Sadly AT had just started work on an interview feature with the great man which will now never be completed. He leaves behind him an incredible legacy, a phenomenal bodyof work which you really should investigate and millions of gay men that are alive today because he fought like a wild cat for them wanting absolutely nothing in return. 27th May 2020 was the day the protest whistles stopped.