Saturday, October 29, 2016

October 29 - Larry Kramer

Larry Kramer

Larry Kramer is a living legend. He's probably best known now for writing the play (and subsequent HBO film) The Normal Heart, but his most inspiring and life-changing work was with public health and LGBT rights advocacy. Kramer was a hit-or-miss writer in the 1970s, having published a book, Faggots, that was not well-received by the gay community and largely ignored by critics, and having written an Oscar-nominated screenplay of the little-seen film Women in Love. Subsequent projects, mostly plays, frequently failed or never got off the ground to begin with. But when the AIDS crisis began in New York City in 1980, Kramer was inspired by the deaths of many friends and colleagues to form the Gay Men's Health Crisis, an organization that provided education, funds, and emotional support for those suffering from AIDS. After the founding, Kramer became a very vocal AIDS activist. His style was very confrontational. He yelled, spit, cursed, and brought a lot of new attention to AIDS because of it. This angry style of confronting the government for not doing enough (or anything) to help AIDS sufferers led to the formation of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) in 1987, a direct action protest group which targeted government agencies, such as the FDA, and corporations to publicize the lack of funds and treatments available to those with AIDS. ACT UP became famous at the time for its civil disobedience, led by Kramer's rousing speeches. These events are credited with completely changing the state of modern medicine and influencing the FDA and other agencies to finally start searching for cures and preventions for HIV/AIDS. He was not without detractors, though, as many found his style abrasive, divisive, and counterintuitive to the cause of equality. But it cannot be denied that his public shaming of prominent figures of the time (New York City mayor Ed Kock, President Reagan, immunologist Anthony Fauci, several New York Times reporters) led to real change in the fight against what Kramer dubbed "The Gay Holocaust" that was AIDS.

In following years, Larry Kramer used his newfound attention to publish several books and plays (The Destiny of Me, a sequel to The Normal Heart, was a Pulitzer Prize finalist) on the subject of AIDS, activism, and LGBT equality. At 81, after having been diagnosed with HIV nearly 30 years ago, Kramer still writes and speaks publicly. He married his partner of two decades in 2013 and has another book forthcoming in 2017.

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