Rest in power Larry Kramer

Pioneering AIDS Activist Larry Kramer—Whose "Rage Helped Inspire a Movement"—Dead at 84

LGBTQ rights and public health advocates mourned an "incalculable" loss on Wednesday when influential AIDS activist and writer Larry Kramer died of pneumonia at the age of 84.

Kramer came to fame in the 1980s for his forceful demands for a national response to the AIDS epidemic as it killed tens of thousands of people, including many gay men.

As AIDS patients and gay men were stigmatized and President Ronald Reagan refused to publicly acknowledge the disease until 1985—when more than 5,000 people had already died—Kramer established Gay Men's Health Crisis, the first organization dedicated to providing public services to HIV-positive people.

In 1987, Kramer began ACT-UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), which became known for its disruptive—and ultimately effective—public actions demanding the federal government rapidly research potential treatments for AIDS and fighting discrimination against the LGBTQ community.

In The New Yorker in 2002, Michael Specter wrote that Kramer "may be responsible for more public arrests than anyone since the height of the civil rights movement," describing some of the public demonstrations he led:

AIDS activists who tried to dump the ashes of a young friend onto the South Lawn of the White House; protesters who shut down the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, surrounded the Food and Drug Administration headquarters, and chained themselves to the gates at the headquarters of the pharmaceutical giant Hoffman-La Roche and to the Golden Gate Bridge. In 1989, Kramer even called for riots before the annual international AIDS meeting convened in San Francisco. When Louis Sullivan, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, delivered the closing address, he was pelted mercilessly with condoms.

Kramer took aim at Dr. Anthony Fauci, who took the helm of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in 1984 and is now a leader in the U.S. government's response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Blaming Fauci for the government's slow response to the AIDS epidemic, Kramer publicly called him an "incompetent idiot" and a murderer in the pages of the San Francisco Examiner in 1988. Fauci later credited Kramer with drawing attention at the federal level to the damage that was being done by bureaucratic delays in the search for effective AIDS treatments.

If it wasn't for Larry and ACT-UP who knows what the death toll from AIDS would be today? That Reagan gets any good press is beyond me because instead of treating the AIDS epidemic as the threat it was just because of who it first affected but instead going with Falwell's It's Gawd's punishment for their lifestyle. What makes it even more criminal is that Reagan still did nothing after it was known to have gotten into the blood supply and was then affecting people with hemophilia which was mostly kids. He finally did when enough of his straight friends started dying from AIDS. And then other rich people. And....

Instead of reliving that nightmarish time period I am going to focus on Kramer's life and what he did for the gay community because I don't want to rehash and re-live the anger and anguish of those years.

This country has lost an incredible soul and I wish there was some way I could attend his funeral and see the celebration of his life.

If you haven't watched And the Band Played On
I highly recommend watching it. Or reading the book with the same title. It covers the rise of the AIDS epidemic including the role ACT UP had with getting treatment.

On a side note I am hearing that survivors of the AIDS epidemic are suffering PTSD over the way the COVID pandemic was ignored for so long as the death toll continued to mount. Especially when we learn how people in nursing and veterans homes have been sacrificed.

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GreatLakeSailor's picture

really brought back the memories. Shiver and goose bumps literally started at my head and flowed down to my feet.

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Compensated Spokes Model for Big Poor & Big Peace.

Never had the pleasure of meeting Larry Kramer but I think as long as we write the truth he approves.

Back in those days, I was still a kid. An obviously queer kid but for a while I kept it under wraps and then my mother was intrusive and found out. She objected in such a spectacular, dramatic, and violent fashion that the only available option for me was to run like hell. I was a homeless kid on the streets of South Florida for a little while, fortunately not for very long. I got by with a little help from my friends, and then the older members of Team Rainbow took me in, befriended me, and helped me get some semblance of a functional life together.

One of those older gays became one of the best friends I ever had in this life, Kevin, and he was HIV+ when we met. He was also still a partyboy raising all kinds of hell and doing all kinds of drugs and having all kinds of dangerous sex. Over the next handful of years I watched him confront the internalized self-loathing and all the psychological torture that had driven him to behave so recklessly with himself and with others, and then I watched him flip his entire script. He got into meditation and eastern philosophy. He stopped acting out. He learned to love himself. He started to talk about how he saw connections and how meaning was up to us but how there was this deep beauty in everything and no one else was getting anything but maybe tiny glimpses of what he meant. I don't know how else to describe it other than that he sort-of became this beacon of lovelight in a person suit. (I somewhat followed his path after that and I get what he was talking about now but this comment isn't really about that.)

Meanwhile during that time most of the GLBTQ crew I knew were fighting the good fight for research, safe affordable treatment, and legal equality. We went to funerals and memorials, we went to protests and early wedding ceremonies, we organized medical fundraisers and we tried to stop asshole homophobic families from taking everything from surviving partners. Whenever Kevy would call me up and say there was an ACT-UP protest or fundraiser or organizational meeting or whatever (for a while I had a car but he didn't) I'd drop whatever else and off we'd go. I was a healthy kid with nothing to lose so I could use my body and holler and get into the faces of the people ignoring these poor guys while they condemned them to death just for who they loved, and so I did what I could do.

Kevin had been among the first wave of guys who got the virus here, probably some time in the early 80s. By the early 90s his doctors did not understand how he was still alive and they were asking him what he was doing. He told them it wasn't really medical, he was doing what he could, but they needed to get their shit together and find a better medication. They eventually did that but not in time for Kevin, and he died in January of 1996.

It was many years before I could watch any of the movies about AIDS. I've never seen the "classics" or any of the movies made back then. The first one I was able to watch was when Ryan Murphy adapted Larry Kramer's play The Normal Heart in 2014. I know a lot of people don't like Murphy's style but I do like his art, and his take on Kramer's work was an excellent representation of the time and the events so I would highly recommend the film to anyone and everyone with an interest in the subject.

Because of all that, you know, if someone asks people to chant for Larry I'm gonna chant for Larry but the truth is that I couldn't even get through the first line of that old chant without starting to weep and the third line was just that sobbing gibberish you do when you should have shut up already so that's what I'm going to do now.

Let me close by saying thanks again for this memoral piece, Snoopy. Appreciate the space to say a little something.

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wendy davis's picture

@Reverend Jane Ignatowski

so concise, evocative, honest, and well said. i thank you for it, and admire your clarity for all that followed running the hell away from your toxic mum.

i'm so glad snoopy's tribute to larry kramer has allowed you to share it. rec'd in spades (and in ♥s!)

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@wendy davis

Thanks Wendy.

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wendy davis's picture

@Reverend Jane Ignatowski

inspirational vignette of love and camaraderie, not to mention turning poison to medicine. thank you again, mi amiga (if i may be so bold).

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Dawn's Meta's picture

not know about this courageous person.

I have been gifted by others two books about Derek Jarman : Derek Wiki
Modern Nature

Dungeness Garden

And, AT Your Own Risk.

When I think things are going badly, I read Modern Nature. It also got me headed in the direction of Wilding, and sustainable agriculture. Starting with Jarman, I now have a wonderful and hopeful shelf of books on new/old farming, forestry, trees, farming with nature. He would garden even in his worst days.

Nature is our best medicine.
Raspberries to Dr. Fauci. Not sure how much I believe anything from him.
Thank you again for this tribute and story of Larry Kramer.

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A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit. Allegedly Greek, but more possibly fairly modern quote.

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wendy davis's picture

to such a remarkable and iconic activist. i can't even recall ever having heard his name.

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