Larry Kramer is an American playwright, author, public health advocate, and LGBT rights activist. David Webster and Larry Kramer married on July 24, 2013, in New York. The two first met in the late 1960's and dated in the late 1970's, but spent the 80's apart. But in 1992, Kramer called. They agreed to meet in a few months. In the interim, Webster's partner, Eriksson died of AIDS. The effect Webster has had on Kramer is palpable, the calm that comes with finally being seen, finally being heard.
Kramer witnessed the first spread of the disease that became known as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) among his friends in 1980, and he co-founded the Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC), which has become the largest private organization to assist people living with AIDS in the world. Not content with the social services GMHC provided, Kramer expressed his frustration with bureaucratic paralysis and the apathy of gay men to the AIDS crisis by writing a play titled The Normal Heart which was produced at The Public Theatre in New York City in 1985. His political activism extended to the founding of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) in 1987, a direct action protest organization widely credited with changing public health policy and widespread perception of people living with AIDS (PWAs) and awareness of HIV and AIDS-related diseases. He has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for his play The Destiny of Me (1992), and has been a two-time recipient of the Obie Award. Kramer currently lives in New York City and Connecticut.
Kramer was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, as a second child that his parents did not want. The family soon moved to Maryland where Kramer attended school, although they found themselves with a much lower income than Kramer's high school peers. His father pressed him to marry a woman with money, and insisted he become a member of Pi Tau Pi, a Jewish fraternity. Kramer had become sexually involved with a male friend in junior high school, but he dated girls in high school.
He enrolled at Yale University in 1953, but did not adjust well. He was lonely and his grades were poorer than those to which he was accustomed. He tried to kill himself by overdosing on aspirin because he thought he was the "only gay student on campus". The experience left him determined to explore his sexuality and set him on the path to fighting "for gay people's worth". The next semester, he had an affair with his German professor — his first requited romantic relationship with a man. When the professor was scheduled to study in Europe, he invited Kramer, but Kramer decided not to go. Yale had been a family tradition: his father, older brother Arthur, and two uncles were alumni. Kramer instead enjoyed the Varsity Glee Club while at Yale. He graduated in 1957 with a degree in English.
According to Kramer, every drama he has written derives from a desire to understand love's nature and its obstacles. Kramer became involved with movie production at 23 years old by taking a job as a Teletype operator at Columbia Pictures, and agreed to the position only because the machine was across the hall from the president's office. Eventually, he won a position in the story department reworking scripts. His first writing credit was as a dialogue writer for Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush, a teen sex comedy. He followed that with the 1969 Oscar-nominated screenplay Women in Love, an adaptation of D. H. Lawrence's novel. He next penned what Kramer calls "the only thing in my life I'm ashamed of," the 1973 musical remake of Frank Capra's Lost Horizon, a notorious critical and commercial failure whose screenplay was based very closely on Capra's film. Kramer has said that his well-negotiated fee for this work, skillfully invested by his brother, made him financially self-sufficient.
Kramer then began to integrate homosexual themes into his work, and tried writing for the stage. He wrote Sissies' Scrapbook in 1973 (later rewritten and retitled as Four Friends), a dramatic play about four friends, one of whom is gay, and their dysfunctional relationships. Kramer called it a play about "cowardice and the inability of some men to grow up, leave the emotional bondage of male collegiate camaraderie, and assume adult responsibilities". The play was first produced in a theater set up in an old YMCA gymnasium on 53rd Street and Eighth Avenue called the Playwrights Horizon. Live theater moved him to believing that writing for the stage was what he wanted to do. Although the play was given a somewhat favorable review by the New York Times, it was closed by the producer and Kramer was so distraught that he decided never to write for the stage again, later stating, "You must be a masochist to work in the theater and a sadist to succeed on its stages."
Kramer next wrote A Minor Dark Age, though it failed to be produced. Frank Rich, in the foreword to a Grove Press collection of Kramer's less-known works, wrote that "dreamlike quality of the writing is haunting" in Dark Age, and that its themes, such as the exploration of the difference between sex and passion, "are staples of his entire output" that would portend his future work, including the 1978 novel Faggots.
In 1978 Kramer delivered the final of four drafts of a novel that he wrote about the fast lifestyle of gay men of Fire Island and Manhattan. In Faggots, the primary character was modeled on himself, a man who is unable to find love while encountering the drugs and emotionless sex in the trendy bars and discos. He stated his inspiration for the novel: "I wanted to be in love. Almost everybody I knew felt the same way. I think most people, at some level, wanted what I was looking for, whether they pooh-poohed it or said that we can't live like the straight people or whatever excuses they gave." Kramer researched the book, talking to many men, and visiting various establishments. As he interviewed people, he heard a common question: "Are you writing a negative book? Are you going to make it positive? ... I began to think, 'My God, people must really be conflicted about the lives they're leading.' And that was true. I think people were guilty about all the promiscuity and all the partying." The book was called Faggots.
The novel caused an uproar in the community it portrayed; it was taken off the shelves of the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookstore—New York's only gay bookstore, and Kramer was banned from the grocery store near his home on Fire Island. Reviewers found it difficult to believe that Kramer's accounts of gay relationships were accurate; both the gay and mainstream press panned the book. On the reception of the novel Kramer says, "The straight world thought I was repulsive, and the gay world treated me like a traitor. People would literally turn their back when I walked by. You know what my real crime was? I put the truth in writing. That's what I do: I have told the fucking truth to everyone I have ever met." Faggots, however, became one of the best-selling gay novels of all time.
In 2000, Reynolds Price wrote that the novel's lasting relevance is that "anyone who searches out present-day responses on the Internet will quickly find that the wounds inflicted by Faggots are burning still". Although Kramer was rejected by the people he thought would be laudatory, the book has never been out of publication and is often taught in gay studies classes. "Faggots struck a chord," wrote Andrew Sullivan, "It exuded a sense that gay men could do better if they understood themselves as fully human, if they could shed their self-loathing and self-deception...."
Initially, while living on Fire Island in the 1970s, Kramer had no intention of getting involved in political activism. There were politically active groups in New York City, but Kramer notes the culture on Fire Island was so different that they would often make fun of political activists: "It was not chic. It was not something you could brag about with your friends... Guys marching down Fifth Avenue was a whole other world. The whole gestalt of Fire Island was about beauty and looks and golden men."
However, when friends he knew from Fire Island began getting sick in 1980, Kramer became involved in gay activism. In 1981, although he had not been involved previously with gay activism, Kramer invited the "A-list" (his own term) group of gay men from the New York City area to his apartment to listen to a doctor say their friends' illnesses were related, and research needed to be done. The next year, they named themselves the Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC), and became the primary organization to raise funds for and provide services to people stricken with Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) in the New York area. Although Kramer served on its first board of directors, his view of how it should be run sharply conflicted with the rest of its members. While GMHC began to concentrate on social services for men who were dying, Kramer loudly insisted they fight for funding from New York City. Mayor Ed Koch became a particular target for Kramer, as did the behavior of gay men before the nature of how the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) was transmitted was understood.
When doctors suggested men stop having sex, Kramer strongly encouraged GMHC to deliver the message to as many gay men as possible. When they refused, Kramer wrote an essay entitled "1,112 and Counting", printed in 1983 in the New York Native, a gay newspaper. The essay discussed the spread of the disease, the lack of government response, and apathy of the gay community. The essay was intended to frighten gay men, and anger them to respond to government indifference. Michael Specter writes in The New Yorker, "it was a five-thousand-word screed that accused nearly everyone connected with health care in America — officials at the Centers for Disease Control, in Atlanta, researchers at the National Institutes of Health, in Washington, doctors at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, in Manhattan, and local politicians (particularly Mayor Ed Koch) — of refusing to acknowledge the implications of the nascent AIDS epidemic. The article's harshest condemnation was directed at those gay men who seemed to think that if they ignored the new disease, it would simply go away.
Kramer's confrontational style proved to be an advantage, as it earned the issue of AIDS in New York media attention that no other individual could get. He found it a disadvantage when he realized his own reputation was "completely that of a crazy man". Kramer was particularly frustrated by bureaucratic stalling that snowballed when the people in charge of agencies that seemed to ignore AIDS were gay, but closeted. He confronted the director of a National Institute of Health agency about not devoting more time and effort toward researching AIDS because he was closeted; he threw a drink in Republican fundraiser Terry Dolan's face during a party and screamed at him for having affairs with men but using homosexuality as a reason to raise money for conservative causes; he called Ed Koch and the media and government agencies in New York City "equal to murderers". Even Kramer's personal life was affected when he and his lover — also a board member on GMHC — split over Kramer's condemnations of the impotence of GMHC.
Kramer's past also compromised his message, as many men who had been turned off by Faggots saw Kramer's warnings as alarmist, displaying negative attitudes toward sex. Playwright Robert Chesley responded to his New York Native article, saying, "Read anything by Kramer closely, and I think you'll find the subtext is always: the wages of gay sin are death". The GMHC ousted Kramer from the organization in 1983. Kramer's preferred method of communication was deemed too militant for the group.
In 1987, Kramer was the catalyst in the founding of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), a direct action protest organization that chose government agencies and corporations as targets to publicize lack of treatment and funding for people with AIDS. ACT UP was formed at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Services Center in New York City. Kramer was asked to speak as part of a rotating speaker series, and his well-attended speech focused on action to fight AIDS. He began by having two thirds of the room stand up, and told them they would be dead in five years. Kramer reiterated the points introduced in his essay "1,112 and Counting": "If my speech tonight doesn't scare the shit out of you, we're in real trouble. If what you're hearing doesn't rouse you to anger, fury, rage, and action, gay men will have no future here on earth. How long does it take before you get angry and fight back?" Their first target became the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which Kramer accused in the New York Times of neglecting badly needed medication for HIV-infected Americans.
Getting many people arrested was a primary objective, as it would focus attention on the target. On March 24, 1987, 17 people out of 250 participating 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. Immunologist Anthony Fauci states "ACT UP put medical treatment in the hands of the patients. And that is the way it ought to be... There is no question in my mind that Larry helped change medicine in this country. And he helped change it for the better. In American medicine there are two eras. Before Larry and after Larry. Playwright Tony Kushner offered his opinion of why Kramer fought so restlessly: "In a way, like a lot of Jewish men of Larry's generation, the Holocaust is a defining historical moment, and what happened in the early 1980s with AIDS felt, and was in fact, holocaustal to Larry."
Two decades later Kramer continued to advocate for social and legal equity for homosexuals. "Our own country's democratic process declares us to be unequal, which means, in a democracy, that our enemy is you," he wrote in 2007. "You treat us like crumbs. You hate us. And sadly, we let you."
In 1997 Kramer approached Yale University, to help realize a dream: he wanted to bequeath them several million dollars "to endow a permanent, tenured professorship in gay studies and possibly to build a gay and lesbian student center." At that time, gender, ethnic and race-related studies were viewed warily by academia. The then Yale provost, Alison Richard, stated that gay and lesbian studies was too narrow a specialty for a program in perpetuity. Kramer's rejected proposal read: "Yale is to use this money solely for 1) the study of and/or instruction in gay male literature, by which I mean courses to study gay male writers throughout history or the teaching to gay male students of writing about their heritage and their experience. To ensure for the continuity of courses in either or both of these areas tenured positions should be established; and/or 2) the establishment of a gay student center at Yale. . . ."
In 2001, both sides agreed to a five-year trial with seed money of $1 million Arthur Kramer endowed to Yale to finance the Larry Kramer Initiative for Lesbian and Gay Studies. The money would pay visiting professors and a program coordinator for conferences, guest speakers and other events. Kramer agreed to leave his literary papers and those chronicling the AIDS movement and his founding of GMHC and ACT-UP to Yale's Beinecke Library. "A lot has changed since I made my initial demands," said Kramer. "I was trying to cram stuff down their throat. I'd rather they fashion their own stuff. It may allow for a much more expandable notion of what lesbian and gay studies really is." The program was closed down by Yale in 2006.
Kramer's relationship with his brother, Arthur Kramer, founding partner of the white shoe law firm Kramer Levin, exploded into the public sphere with Kramer's 1984 play, The Normal Heart. In the play, Kramer portrays Arthur (as Ben Weeks) as more concerned with building his $2 million house in Connecticut than in helping his brother's cause. Humorist Calvin Trillin, a friend of both Larry and Arthur, once called The Normal Heart "the play about the building of [Arthur's] house." Anemona Hartocollis observed in the New York Times that "their story came to define an era for hundreds of thousands of theatergoers." Arthur, who had been his younger brother's protector against the parents they both disliked, couldn't find it in his heart to reject Larry, but also couldn't accept his homosexuality. This caused years of arguing and stretches of silence between the siblings. In the 1980s, Larry wanted Arthur's firm to represent the fledgling Gay Men's Health Crisis, a nonprofit Larry organized. Arthur said he had to clear it with his firm's intake committee. Larry saw this as a cop-out — rightly, as Arthur said later. Larry called for a gay boycott of MCI, a prominent Kramer Levin client, which Arthur saw as a personal affront. In 1992, Colorado voters passed Amendment 2, an anti-gay rights referendum, and Arthur refused to cancel a ski trip to Aspen.
Throughout their disagreements, they still stayed close. Larry writes of their relationship in The Normal Heart: "The brothers love each other a great deal; [Arthur's] approval is essential to [Larry]."
In 2001, Arthur gave Yale a $1 million grant to establish the Larry Kramer Initiative for Lesbian and Gay Studies, a program focusing on gay history.
Kramer Levin went on to become one of the gay rights movement's staunchest advocates, helping Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund on such high-profile cases as Lawrence v. Texas before the U.S. Supreme Court and Hernandez v. Robles before the New York Court of Appeals. Arthur Kramer retired from the firm in 1996 and died of a stroke in 2008.
In 1988, stress over the closing of his play Just Say No, only a few weeks after its opening, forced Kramer into the hospital after it aggravated a congenital hernia. While in surgery, doctors discovered liver damage due to Hepatitis B, prompting Kramer to learn that he was HIV positive. In 2001, at the age 66, Kramer was in dire need of a liver transplant, but he was turned down by Mount Sinai Hospital's organ transplant list. People living with HIV were routinely considered inappropriate candidates for organ transplants because of complications from HIV and perceived short lifespans. Out of the 4,954 liver transplants performed in the United States, only 11 were for HIV-positive people. The news prompted Newsweek to announce Kramer was dying in June 2001, and the Associated Press in December of the same year to claim Kramer had died. Kramer became a symbol for infected people who had new leases on life due to advances in medicine. "We shouldn't face a death sentence because of who we are or who we love," he said in an interview. In May 2001 the Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute at the University of Pittsburgh — which had performed more transplants for HIV positive patients (9) than any other facility in the world — accepted Kramer on its list. Kramer received a new liver on December 21, 2001.
In 1987, at a meeting in New York City, playwright and activist Larry Kramer called for a new, grassroots AIDS organization that would perform direct action and demand the basic health care, civil rights, legal protections, and respect that Americans were guaranteed under the Constitution. Two days later, three hundred people turned out for a meeting to form such a group. The result was the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP). In many ways, ACT UP was a return to the raucous street actions of the Gay Liberation Front and the “zaps” of the Gay Activist Alliance. But it was also a repudiation of the play-within-the-system approach of the reformist LGBT rights groups. Kramer was explicit about this in his original speech, in which he stated that the group Gay Men’s Health Crisis, of which he was a cofounder, had no political clout in the legal or medical world. National and local groups, such as New York’s Lambda Legal Defense and Education Foundation and Boston’s AIDS Law Project of Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, were doing necessary legal work. But the instances of discrimination were so pervasive, and enforcement often so weak, that there was still much more to be done. With devastation increasingly evident in the gay male community and anger and frustration mounting, new tactics had to be tried and new energy harnessed. Like the Gay Liberation Front, ACT UP was predicated on the principle, traced back to anarchist thinking as well as labor and other social justice reform groups, that the people who are affected by injustice are the most effective in changing their own circumstances. --Bronski, Michael (2011-05-10). A Queer History of the United States (Revisioning American History) (Kindle Locations 4795-4806). Beacon Press. Kindle Edition.
But while thousands of lesbians and gay men responded to these changes by publicly declaring who they were, thousands more still assumed that safety, comfort, and prosperity would continue to flow from inside a closet. And most gay people still believed that a public declaration of their homosexuality would mean losing the chance to rise to the pinnacle of their profession. In his first career as a film executive, even a future firebrand like Larry Kramer was careful to bring a woman friend with him to the Monday-night executive screenings. "I was more interested in learning what my professional talents might be and how to get to the next step on the ladder of success," Kramer explained.
IN NEW YORK CITY, the first gay writer to become alarmed about the epidemic was neither a journalist nor an activist. Larry Kramer was a novelist and screenwriter. He had an elfin look, bouncing eyebrows, and boundless energy to excoriate enemies and friends alike. He had spent years in analysis to try to overcome the self-hatred typical of the gay men of his generation who had come of age in the fifties, but he still seemed deeply discontent much of the time. His first important success came in 1969 when he wrote and produced an excellent film version of D. H. Lawrence's Women in Love, which featured a famously homoerotic wrestling scene between the two male protagonists. For many years, that was his only visible contribution to the gay movement. "I certainly wasn't interested in gay politics," he wrote in 1989. "Like many others, when gay pride marches started down Fifth Avenue at the end of June, I was on Fire Island. Gay politics had an awful image. Loudmouths, the unkempt, the dirty and unwashed.... On Fire Island, we laughed ... when we watched the evening news on Sunday night flash brief seconds of those struggling, pitiful marches." Most gay activists were unaware of Kramer until 1977, when he published Faggots, an inflammatory account of upper-middle-class white gay life in Manhattan. Because he had so much contempt for the movement, the novel naturally did not acknowledge its existence, much less any of its achievements. Kramer thought he was writing satire on the level of Evelyn Waugh, but gay activists considered his graphic accounts of fist-fucking and every other sexual excess of gay culture a blood libel. Others simply found the book so overdone as to be unreadable. "Why do faggots have to fuck so fucking much?" Kramer's narrator asked. "It's as if we don't have anything else to do.... All we do is live in our ghetto and dance and drug and fuck.... There's a whole world out there! ... as much ours as theirs ... I'm tired of using my body as a faceless thing to lure another faceless thing. "I want to love a Person." For thousands of young men mesmerized by their newly won sexual freedom, this notion was truly radical. As the gay psychologist Joe Brewer told Randy Shilts, "Stripped of humanity, sex sought ever rising levels of physical stimulation in increasingly esoteric practices," while Brewer's colleague Gary Walsh saw promiscuity as something more positive-"a means to exorcise the guilt ... ingrained in all gay men by a heterosexual society."
Kramer's novel (Faggots) had focused on the emotional damage he thought had been inflicted by nonstop sex. But like Edmund White's pre-AIDS speculation about the possible cost of gay fantasies of San Francisco-"Did we know what price these dreams would exact?"-something else Kramer wrote would soon sound like an ominous prophecy. Everything had to change, said the narrator of Faggots-"before you fuck yourself to death."
Faggots "angered everyone, of course," Kramer recalled, "particularly the gay political leaders who told everybody they should have as much love as they want." But Kramer thought that "having so much sex made finding love impossible. Everyone I knew wanted ... a lover, and everyone was screwing himself twenty-four hours a day ... to what turned out to be to death.... You could have sex twenty-three times just going to the market." After Faggots was published, it was made "pointedly clear" to him that he was "no longer welcome" on Fire Island. At the beginning of the epidemic, because no one knew for sure whether AIDS really was a sexually transmitted disease, anyone recommending reduced sexual activity as a sensible precaution ran the risk of being attacked for "internalized homophobia" or "sexual fascism." And because Kramer had already attacked promiscuity for other reasons, he was particularly vulnerable to this criticism. He went to his doctor three weeks after the Times article to ask him what he could do to avoid the new disease. "I'd stop having sex," his physician told him. One month after that appointment, his first warning about the epidemic appeared in the New York Native, a gay newspaper that pioneered coverage of the disease:The men who have been stricken don't appear to have done anything that many New York gay men haven't done at one time or another. We're appalled that this is happening to them and terrified that it could happen to us. It's easy to become frightened that one of the many things we've done or taken over the past years may be all that it takes for a cancer to grow from a tiny something-or-other that got in there who knows when from doing who knows what.... Money is desperately needed.... This is our disease and we must take care of each other and ourselves. In the past we have often been a divided community; I hope we can all get together on this emergency, undivided, cohesively, and with all the numbers we in so many ways possess.The attacks he received for this sensible appeal set the tone for the debate within the gay community during the first few years of the epidemic. On one side were those like Kramer who believed "something we are doing is ticking off the time bomb that his causing the breakdown of immunity in certain bodies," and therefore "wouldn't it be better to be cautious, rather than reckless?" On the other side were writers like Robert Chesley, who immediately skewered Kramer in the letters column of the Native:I think the concealed meaning in Kramer's emotionalism is the triumph of guilt: that gay men deserve to die for their promiscuity. In his novel, Faggots, Kramer told us that sex is dirty and that we ought not be doing what we're doing.... It's easy to become frightened that Kramer's real emotion is a sense of having been vindicated, though tragically. . . . Read anything by Kramer closely. I think you'll find that the subtext is always: the wages of gay sin are death.... I am not downplaying the seriousness of Kaposi's sarcoma. But something else is happening here, which is also serious: gay homophobia and anti-eroticism.Kramer later credited Chesley's attack with turning him into an activist. Kramer was the founder of two of the most important gay organizations spawned by the epidemic. The first one was Gay Men's Health Crisis, which grew out of a fund-raising meeting in Kramer's Fifth Avenue apartment on August Ii, 1981, where he raised $6,635. Philip Gefter attended this first gathering with Jack Fitzsimmons; then Gefter volunteered to organize a follow-up fund-raiser on Fire Island over Labor Day weekend. "Larry made this impassioned plea for us to focus all of our attention and our energy on this because this could become a major crisis," said Gefter, who was working as a picture editor at Forbes magazine at the time. "We went out to dinner after that meeting, and I remember Jack was panicked. I'd never seen him so panicked. He was a very controlled person and very even-tempered. But he was really scared, much more than I was. I asked him, `Why are you so scared?' And he couldn't answer. For six years he had an obsession about AIDS. Every time there was anything in the paper about it, he would call me and read me the story."
Howard Rosenman was an extremely active Fire Island visitor in the summers of the seventies. He never slept with Dugas, but he did have sex with a great many of the first AIDS patients on Fire Island, beginning with Enno Poersch, who was "German and six feet four, and one of the most beautiful men I have ever seen. "He lived in the house right across from the one I had rented for the summer in the Pines. That was the house Randy Shilts wrote about. I didn't sleep with Patient Zero, but I slept with most of Patients One through Nineteen at some time during the eleven years I had summered on Fire Island. Okay? Most of them. In the summer of 1980 they told us Poersch's lover got cat scratch fever [he actually had toxoplasmosis; he died on January 15, 1981]. I was in medical school for three years, right? I remember saying to myself, cat scratch fever? That's really odd. That was the end of the summer of 1980, and that was the first time I knew something was rotten in the state of Denmark. I was at the zenith of my wildest time. And then I came home to California. "Somewhere along the winter or the spring of 198o I had a boyfriend named Reuven Levi-Proctor who was a rabbi drug dealer who Larry Kramer wrote about in Faggots. He was from Baltimore, Maryland, and his parents were very religious Jews. But in the summer of l98o, Reuven and I were now friends and he had a new boyfriend who came down with these marks on his body and died very, very quickly. And none of us knew what it was except Dr. Joel Weismann who treated him. Then Bronte Woodard, who was a writer who wrote Grease. He had been writing a screenplay for me. He was a bighearted guy from the south. He was like a big fat boy, bald. He used to give orgies that Nureyev used to attend in L.A., and he was also writing for Allan Carr. He got very, very, very sick with liver disease and other diseases." Woodard died August 6, 198o. His obituary gave the cause of death as liver failure. Rosenman had been friendly with Larry Kramer until people whom Rosenman had told Kramer about in general conversations turned up as characters in Faggots. Kramer hadn't shown him the manuscript in advance. "He was dishonest with me," said Rosenman, "and I punched him out and I wasn't speaking to him. He modeled some of the characters in Faggots on people that were really close friends of mine. And I remember walking to the boat and Larry was sitting at a makeshift desk collecting money for gay cancer. And I remember saying to myself, `Howard, whatever's going on here is really big-time and important. You've got to transcend your level of loathing for Larry and go for what he is representing and give him money.' And I gave him a hundred bucks. And I remember leaving the island and saying to myself, `That fucking Larry Kramer. She may be one hysterical girl, but boy oh boy, is she committed!"' In fact all of Kramer's instincts about how the community should have behaved at the beginning of the epidemic proved to be absolutely correct. When GMHC was founded, he felt exhilarated: "It was one of those rare moments in life when one felt completely utilized, useful, with a true reason to be alive." But Kramer continued to behave like a volcano that was never dormant, constantly spewing lava in all directions.
Because he was so lacking in any ability to get along with his colleagues, much less his adversaries, no one ever considered Kramer for GMHC's presidency. That job went to Paul Popham, a beautiful, closeted ex-Green Beret, who worried that his mailman would realize that he was gay if he saw an invitation for a fund-raiser with Gay Men's Health Crisis as the return address. Popham constantly battled with Kramer about tactics and substance. Later, Kramer admitted that he had been somewhat in love with Popham. One of the first arguments between Kramer and Popham was over whether GMHC should tell its members to stop having sex altogether, or reduce the number of their sexual partners. Kramer was adamant that they should be warned, but Popham and rest of the board opposed the idea. What if it was determined that there was no infectious agent? Popham asked. Then GMHC would look ridiculous. The infighting came to a head in April 1983, after Kramer had repeatedly accused Mayor Edward I. Koch of an inadequate response to the health crisis. After months of violent attacks from Kramer, the mayor had finally agreed to a meeting about AIDS with ten representatives of gay groups around the city. But the GMHC board refused to send Kramer as one of its two envoys. Paul Popham was terrified of how Kramer might behave in a small meeting with the mayor. Kramer was stunned-and promptly resigned from the board. After that, GMHC rebuffed all of his subsequent efforts to rejoin the organization. A decade later, Koch said that he regretted not meeting with Kramer sooner. "I read a letter from him in one of the magazines in which he was ... denouncing me," Koch said. "I inquired and I was told that he had made a request for a meeting.... I was told he was not held in high regard because of his vehemence and I should just ignore it. I'm sorry I took their advice, frankly. He is a very important force in the AIDS movement.... He has caused people to give this matter a lot of attention." Despite all the internal dissension, GMHC grew rapidly into an extremely effective social service agency and lobbying group. Anyone with AIDS could come to the agency for help. After one of Kramer's periodic complaints about inadequate press coverage of the epidemic, the Times printed a glowing three-thousand-word feature story about GMHC at the end of 1983. Written by Maureen Dowd, then a rising star on the paper's metropolitan staff, the story described the agency as a "sophisticated social-service organization with growing political power, 12 paid staff members, an 8-member board of directors, 500 male and female volunteers, and a 1984 budget of $900,000" which was "currently helping 250 people with AIDS."
ONE OF LARRY KRAMER'S most persistent complaints was about the failure of The New York Times and Mayor Edward I. Koch to make it clear from the beginning that AIDS was a crisis-and a communicable disease that gay men needed to avoid. But considering the degree of hostility that gay leaders encountered when they tried to make these points, it's unlikely that anything Koch could have said would have done much to influence the behavior of gay men. Dan William, a prominent gay New York doctor, was denounced as a "monogamist ... stirring panic" just for suggesting that bathhouses should be required to post warning signs about the epidemic and the dangers of promiscuous sex. In 1982, according to Randy Shilts, "More gays were furious" at William "than at anybody in the Koch administration." Kramer's most famous piece about the epidemic, entitled "1,112 and Counting," was printed in the New York Native on March 14, 1983, and reprinted in many other gay newspapers across the country. "If this article doesn't scare the shit out of you, we're in real trouble," Kramer wrote. "Our continued existence as gay men upon the face of the earth is at stake. Unless we fight for our lives, we shall die." It was one of his most effective polemics, and it included his usual criticism of The New York Times for what he considered inadequate coverage of the epidemic. But Kramer's piece was actually published five weeks afteran extremely comprehensive, six-thousand-word analysis of the epidemic had been published in The New York Times Magazine. --Charles Kaiser. The Gay Metropolis: The Landmark History of Gay Life in America. Kindle Edition.
Larry Kramer with Molly, 1989, by Robert Giard (http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/dl_crosscollex/brbldl_getrec.asp?fld=img&id=1081967)
American photographer Robert Giard is renowned for his portraits of American poets and writers; his particular focus was on gay and lesbian writers. Some of his photographs of the American gay and lesbian literary community appear in his groundbreaking book Particular Voices: Portraits of Gay and Lesbian Writers, published by MIT Press in 1997. Giard’s stated mission was to define the literary history and cultural identity of gays and lesbians for the mainstream of American society, which perceived them as disparate, marginal individuals possessing neither. In all, he photographed more than 600 writers. (http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/digital
Faggots by Larry Kramer
Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Grove Press (June 1, 2000)
Larry Kramer's Faggots has been in print since its original publication in 1978 and has become one of the best-selling novels about gay life ever written. The book is a fierce satire of the gay ghetto and a touching story of one man's desperate search for love there, and reading it today is a fascinating look at how much, and how little, has changed.
The Normal Heart and the Destiny of Me by Larry Kramer
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Grove Press; 1st Grove Press ed edition (September 18, 2000)
Amazon: The Normal Heart and the Destiny of Me
The Normal Heart, set during the early years of the AIDS epidemic, is the impassioned indictment of a society that allowed the plague to happen, a moving denunciation of the ignorance and fear that helped kill an entire generation. It has been produced and taught all over the world. Its companion play, The Destiny of Me, is the stirring story of an AIDS activist forced to put his life in the hands of the very doctor he has been denouncing.
We Must Love One Another Or Die: The Life and Legacies of Larry Kramer by Lawrence D. Mass
Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan; Reprint edition (June 17, 1999)
Amazon: We Must Love One Another Or Die: The Life and Legacies of Larry Kramer
Twenty-three writers join together to explore the life and work of Larry Kramer, pioneer AIDS activist and acclaimed author of The Normal Heart and Faggots, in this original collection. The Academy Award-nominated screenwriter, producer, novelist, playwright, and co-founder of GMHC and founder of ACT-UP is one of the few visible gay role models we have for young people today. This unique volume focuses on Kramer as activist, writer, and personality. A controversial figure in the worlds of activism and letters, Kramer embodies the phrase, "the personal is political." This collection proves the impossibility of separating the activist from the writer and why perceptions of Kramer run from genius to provocateur.
More Particular Voices at my website: http://www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Particular Voices
More Real Life Romances at my website: http://www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Real Life Romance
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