by Joe Siegel
The recent passing of legendary playwright and outspoken AIDS activist Larry Kramer is being remembered by various LGBTQ media outlets.
Kramer, 84, died from pneumonia in New York City on May 27. In 1981, Kramer founded the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), the first service organization for HIV-positive people.
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He later organized a more militant group, ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), whose street actions demanding faster government action to approve AIDS medications and an end to discrimination against gay men and lesbians severely disrupted the operations of government offices, Wall Street and the Roman Catholic hierarchy.
Kramer’s autobiographical 1985 play, “The Normal Heart,” was critically acclaimed and later adapted into an HBO movie.
Kramer’s 1983 essay in the New York Native — the venerable gay newspaper that ceased publication in 1997 — was an impassioned plea on behalf of all those impacted by AIDS:
“After almost two years of an epidemic, there still are no answers. After almost two years of an epidemic, the cause of AIDS remains unknown. After almost two years of an epidemic, there is no cure.
“Hospitals are now so filled with AIDS patients that there is often a waiting period of up to a month before admission, no matter how sick you are. And, once in, patients are now more and more being treated like lepers as hospital staffs become increasingly worried that AIDS is infectious.
“Suicides are now being reported of men who would rather die than face such medical uncertainty, such uncertain therapies, such hospital treatment, and the appalling statistic that 86 percent of all serious AIDS cases die after three years' time.”
Mark Segal, publisher of Philadelphia Gay News, called Kramer “a firebrand when our community needed one.”
“He will long be remembered for his fight to get the government and medical science to focus on HIV/AIDS. What the government and science learned from that effort are being utilized today in the fight against coronavirus,” said Segal. “That’s a legacy.”
Segal recalled a time, eight years ago, when he, Kramer and other gay rights pioneers were all on a float together at New York City’s Pride parade.
“[Kramer] argued with everyone, which was his nature,” said Segal. “After we got off the float, I was met by my friend Rob and his dog Butch. Larry invited us to his apartment. It was fun to watch this angry man playing with the dog rolling all over the floor laughing. I think that’s a part of Larry few got to see.”
Kevin Naff, editor of the Washington Blade, called Kramer "a force of nature and a source of inspiration for so many of us involved in the LGBTQ movement, including me. His mantra of using anger as a motivator still resonates today. The Blade interviewed him many times over the years, beginning in 1982 when two of our staff writers traveled to New York City to talk to him about the early cases of AIDS in the city. We last talked to him at World Pride last summer in New York. He could be cantankerous and a tough interview, but was always accessible and eloquent. He will be missed.”
Andrew Davis, managing editor of Chicago’s Windy City Times, noted that Kramer’s importance and influence are “essentially incalculable.”
“Through his activism and literary contributions, Kramer gave a voice to those who lacked one,” said Davis. “LGBTQ media justifiably interviewed and analyzed this amazing man. If it weren't for his incredible actions, LGBTQ — and, eventually, mainstream — media would probably have published a very different narrative regarding HIV/AIDS. Larry Kramer essentially altered history.”
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