Author and AIDS activist Larry Kramer spoke at Sunshine Cathedral in an interview format with editor/writer Kevin Sessums on Friday, March 10. Kramer was soft-spoken but fired up as he reflected on his career as a screenwriter, novelist and social activist.
The evening’s conversation covered a range of topics from the government and AIDS, gay activism, fears about the Trump administration and Kramer’s latest new novel called “The American People, Volume 1: Search for My Heart.”
Before a packed house, Sessums introduced Kramer as an icon.
“Larry Kramer is to the AIDS crisis what Martin Luther King Jr. is to the civil rights movement,” he said. “You can’t tell the story of HIV/AIDS without highlighting Larry Kramer.
Now 81 years old and is declining health, Kramer is not as loud as he once was, but his passion remains as strong. “Getting old is not for sissies,” he mused.
Kramer reminisced about forming the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) in his New York City apartment in 1982. “I never, ever thought I’d be an activist,” he admitted. “We used to make fun of them.” But as his friends started dying of a mysterious illness, he knew he had to do something.
Kramer grew frustrated that GMHC wouldn’t fight harder to call attention to AIDS, and wanted to do more than the narrow focus of the organization.
In 1987, Kramer was the catalyst in the founding of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), a direct action protect organization that targeted government agencies and corporations for their lack of treatment and funding for people with AIDS. But he laments the group’s demise once HIV medications became widely available.
“We didn’t have an army,” Kramer told the audience. “For a little while, we had ACT UP. The minute the drugs were there, everybody disappeared and went back to their lives.”
Kramer is frustrated that these days there isn’t more of a fight for LGBT rights and AIDS advocacy. “For most of our history, we have not been good fighters,” Kramer lamented. “That’s the saddest message I’ve learned over the last year. Why aren’t we all fighting for the rights that we’re entitled to?”
More than once, Kramer compared President Trump to former President Ronald Reagan. “There’s a lot of evil inherit in this plague of how we’ve been treated, especially when it comes to HIV,” he explained. There’s no doubt that AIDS was allowed to happen in terms of what we were told and what was allowed to happen. Reagan was the same as Trump, but Ronald Reagan smiled better.”
He took that bleak outlook a bit further. “Too many people want us dead,” he explained. “Too many people don’t just dislike us – they hate us. When they are in power, we have to fight back in whatever way we can. We’re being put to the test now.”
Kramer says it’s hard not to be very depressed when it comes to Trump administration and LGBT rights. “I am very frightened what’s going to happen to us a gay people,” he said. “I’m terrified. I hope we as a population can be angry and fight back. They are already starting to chip away at gay marriage. It’s going to be Roe v. Wade.”
As for his novel, “The American People, Volume 1: Search for My Heart,” it is a 600-plus opus of social, political and historical segments thrown together to shape the United States. It frames the Founding Fathers in a new light and introduces the AIDS virus decades earlier than originally thought. “I guess somewhere along the line of so many people dying and being surrounded by it all the time – I wanted to find out the history of HIV,” Kramer explained. “We (gays) have been here since Jamestown. Nothing about homosexuality is in our history books. Gore Vidal told me about Lincoln, Hamilton and George Washington. You realize that most history books are written by straight people.”
As for history a little closer to home, Kramer’s recent trip afforded him his first visit to the World AIDS Museum. “I was knocked out when I saw it,” he said. “It’s got to be put on the top of the list for gay people all over the world to come visit.”
The evening was presented by the World AIDS Museum and Educational Center. It also featured a performance by the Gay Men’s Chorus of South Florida.