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Apr02

An AIDS hero returns to the fold

Thursday, 02 April 2015 Written by // Bob Leahy - Editor Categories // Community Events, Activism, Gay Men, Current Affairs, Events, Living with HIV, Opinion Pieces, Population Specific , Bob Leahy

A moment in our history. Expelled from New York's GMHC in the 80s for his overly aggressive tactics, Larry Kramer returned last month to be honoured with a Lifetime Activism Award. Bob Leahy reports.

An AIDS hero returns to the fold

Kelsey Louie (left) and Larry Kramer at 2015 GMHC Spring Gala
Photo credit: Matthew McDermott

I’ve always liked Larry Kramer. Not unreservedly, 100% liked, because that degree of acceptance, with a man like this, is hard to pull off. But I’ve liked him a lot. Not because he graciously allowed me to interview him for PositiveLite.com a few years back but because he is lively and literate and impassioned – and angry. “The angriest gay man in the world” is what he has been called. That may be accurate. He characterizes his own reputation as "completely that of a crazy man". 

Liking Larry Kramer, you have to be able to overlook a lot of things. Like his characterization of gay men whom, he suggested back then, seemed to think that if they ignored the then new disease, it would simply go away and his entreaties to get them to stop having sex.

How he expressed himself got him most in trouble though. That anger got him kicked out of the organization he helped found – the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, a ground-breaking organization spawned in 1982 in the very early days of the epidemic in New York City. It had to be the most public expulsion in the history of The HIV epidemic. First the subject of a hugely successful play, The Normal Heart, penned by Kramer himself, it later became an HBO hit that went on to garner nine Emmy nominations and a win for best TV movie in 2014.

So it must have been incredibly poignant that night last month when Kramer returned to the fold  to be honoured with a Lifetime Activism Award by GMHC at its recent Spring gala. According to POZ magazine, ”Kramer was convinced to return in part by Kelsey Louie, the new GMHC chief executive officer, who told him that the group would "be more aggressive on all fronts — especially in our public remarks."

Kramer, now 79, and looking in better health than he did at last year’s Emmy’s when he appeared decided frail, came out swinging at his GMHC reunion. His focus now is on the need for a cure. ”I no longer hear the word “cure” from anyone" he said. “The battle cry now must be one word — cure, cure, cure.” .But then there’s his choice of words, his need to express himself in rhetoric that many would consider overblown that was on full display. “The Larry Kramer who stands before you now” he said “is that I no longer have any doubt that our government is content, via sins of omission or commission, to allow the extermination of my homosexual population to continue unabated.”

But much of what Kramer says is hard not to argue with. You can see him in full sail speaking at the GMHC event in this video. Alternatively read the full text of his remarks here.

****

"THIRTY-FOUR YEARS. HIV/AIDS has been our plague for 34 years. We should have known more about this plague by now. 34 years is a very long time to let people die.

I think more and more about evil. I believe in evil. I believe evil is an act, intentional or not, of inflicting undeserved harm on others. Genocide is such an act. I believe genocide is being inflicted upon gay people.

Genocide is the deliberate and systematic extermination of a national, racial, political, or ethnic group. Such as gay people. Such as people of color. To date, around the world, an estimated 78 million people have become infected, 39 million of whom have died. When we first became acquainted with HIV there were 41 cases.

The main difference between the Larry Kramer who helped to start Gay Men’s Health Crisis in his living room in 1982 and ACT UP in 1987 and the Larry Kramer who stands before you now is that I no longer have any doubt that our government is content, via sins of omission or commission, to allow the extermination of my homosexual population to continue unabated.

It is talk like this that got the original GMHC board to boot me off and out.

It is also talk like this that enabled ACT UP to succeed in getting us our own treatments. These treatments are not good enough but have been good enough to extend our lives. Unfortunately they still come with side effects and they reward their greedy manufacturers with more money than they would make locating the cure that would end this plague.

GMHC was my first child and its rejection was very painful. The original ACT UP self-destructed, which was also a painful experience. Once there were treatments, the desire to act up managed to evaporate rather quickly. This greatest achievement ever facilitated by the gay population—we actually went out there and got our own medicines—then decamped, now that we had a drug that would allow us to do what we did and live the lives that got us in trouble in the first place. The remnants of ACT UP, my second child, is a painful place for me to see now.

Thirty-four years is a long time for pharmaceutical manufacturers to operate in such an evil system.

Thirty-four years is a long time for every president and every Congress to sit back and let us die.

Thirty-four years is a long time for Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is in charge of AIDS research, to watch his and our President and his and our Congress and their National Institutes of Health let us die.

Allowing people to die is evil and genocidal.

We should have had more in 35 years.

These are not what most people would call bad people. But these heterosexuals are not people who are losing any sleep over the death of so many millions of people.

I no longer hear the word “cure” from the remnants of ACT UP or it’s spin-off Treatment Action Group, TAG, or from anyone in our health care establishment starting with Dr. Fauci. I certainly don’t hear it from anyone in Congress or the White House. Dr. Robert Gallo said a few weeks ago that AIDS will kill far more people than Ebola ever will.

Thus what an irony to be asked back into the arms of my first child, GMHC. Just when a new executive director, Kelsey Louie, who feels and says much the same as I did and do, has taken over.

Kelsey said to me, “It has become clear to me that GMHC has every reason to be more aggressive on all fronts—especially in our public remarks.” Oh, it’s a new world at GMHC, one that I tried to start, and Kelsey Louie is very smart and caring and courageous and I congratulate the board for choosing him to be your new leader. “Many are saying that they are happy to see life back in GMHC,” board chair Roberta Kaplan, our great lesbian lawyer who secured a major marriage victory from the Supreme Court, said when she asked me to come back and I accepted.

Kelsey said the words that won over my acceptance. “We must aspire to a cure once and for all. Let’s demand a cure and a society that values people with HIV enough to pay for it. Only if we aspire to more can we demand more. Only if we demand more will we get more.”

My first child sounds like a chip off the old block. I salute him and all of you for being here to join me in supporting Kelsey and his and our new GMHC. The power to change history is still within our grasp. We cannot wait another 34 years. This evil still being waged against us must cease. The battle cry now must be one word: CURE. CURE. CURE.

Allowing people to die is evil and genocidal.

Yes, I believe in evil.

78 million people have become infected, 39 million have died.

I no longer hear the word “cure” from anyone

It is time to hear it from everyone. Led by GMHC. We demand a cure!"

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