(WB) One underdog Democratic presidential candidate with firsthand experience of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s wants to wield love — including gay love — as her weapon of choice to take on President Trump in 2020.
Marianne Williamson, an author whose vision for a “Politics of Love” is the subject of her latest book and drew attention at the first Democratic debate, said in an interview Thursday with the Washington Blade her vision applies to LGBT people.
“I don’t think that there’s gender to love, I don’t think there’s sexuality to love,” Williamson said. “I think that sexuality and gender are the containers and the ways we express our love, but I think love is love.I honor gay love because it’s love. I honor love.”
Williamson, 67, said her work during the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s is “well-documented.” At the time, she founded the Los Angeles and Manhattan Centers for Living, which sought to provide free non-medical care to people with HIV, and Project Angel Food, which delivers food to homebound people with AIDS.
“I’ve worked with thousands of people during that time, during the AIDS crisis, spiritual support groups, food, etcetera.,” Williamson said. “So actually, my activism on behalf of that community has been ongoing and began during the AIDS crisis, so my connection to that community has been strong and has been going on for a very long time.”
In the aftermath of racist tweets from President Trump and presiding over a rally in which supporters chanted “send her back” in reference to Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Williamson likened the current administration to Nazi Germany before World War II.
Asked what aspect of the Trump administration’s anti-LGBT record bothers her the most, Williamson identified the transgender military ban, saying Trump “in many ways, leads the pack” in cultural attitudes against transgender people.
When the Blade asked Williamson why she thinks Vice President Mike Pence seems so uncomfortable with the idea of gay rights, she laughed and referenced rumors that Pence is himself gay without explicitly saying so.
“Well, there are all kinds of theories about that, aren’t there?” Williamson said. “Everyone can have their own — can have their own. I have no idea, but I have a sense that other people do.”
Remembering Los Angeles as being hard hit by AIDS in the 1980s because it affected many people in the entertainment industry and LGBT people, Williamson became emotional and unable to speak when she reflected on the ravages of the disease.
“Those of us who did experience it, it imprints them,” Williamson said. “You’re imprinted with something. I can’t even talk about it now and not —“
David Kessler, a gay longtime friend of Williamson, said the candidate is “brilliant and articulate and she has always been someone who thinks a little out of the box,” marveling at her work during the height of the AIDS epidemic.
The two met, Kessler said, as a result of an AIDS support group she held in his living room every Monday night when he was in another section of town doing a support group.
Recalling the days when medical practitioners would decline to treat people with AIDS, Kessler said Williamson would visit gay men as they were dying in hospitals and came up with the idea for the Los Angeles Center for Living.
“Even back then, I said, ‘Well, do you have a business plan?” Kessler said. “And she goes, ‘No. I don’t have a business plan. I’m just trying to make this happen. And I’m like, ‘Well, you’re going to need a business plan for an organization.’ And she goes, ‘I’m going to just make this happen.’ And she started calling people, and started saying we have to this place for people to come, and the next thing I know, she started this amazing LA Center for Living.”
Kessler said Williamson started Project Angel Food when she realized gay men with AIDS had stopped coming to the center because they were too sick to leave their homes.
“They were getting sicker and they couldn’t come in for lunch,” Kessler said. “And she said, ‘Well, we have to bring them lunch,’ and that turned into Project Angel Food, which still exists today, and just the other day served its 12 millionth meal.”
Williamson has taken flak for once calling vaccine mandates “Orwellian” and “draconian” — a statement for which she has since issued an apology — and bristled when asked whether she would support a hypothetical HIV vaccine.
“I think my quote unquote, concern over vaccines has been vastly misrepresented,” Williamson said. “I am pro-vaccine. I am also pro-independent scientific research. And I am aware of how often in our country today because of the influence of Big Pharma, independent research through such sources as the Centers for Disease Control, National Institutes of Health so forth, is diminished.I also am never happy with the suppression of independent consultation In the United States.”
Regarding the AIDS vaccine, Williamson said she “knows that it exists.” Just last week, the National Institutes for Health announced the start of trials in the United States and abroad for a potential HIV vaccine.
Kessler defended Williamson as a supporter of medicine, saying “there’s been things said that she’s against medicine, which is completely utterly wrong.”
“I remember Marianne giving men money and taking them to UCLA for the AZT study and giving them money for prescriptions,” Kessler said. “There’s no part of Marianne that was anti-medicine.”
Despite Williamson’s record of working for LGBT people, many LGBT voters have been drawn to other candidates, including gay South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg (whose success to date Williamson called “wonderful.”)
One gay Democratic advocate with familiarity of LGBT donors in Los Angeles, who spoke on condition of anonymity for greater candor, said eyes have been on other candidates who appear better poised to win in the general election.
“I know that there are a number of folks here who look very kindly on all of the work that she did in the community in the past — but most are now focused on more serious candidates who stand a real chance at beating our current threat: Donald Trump,” the advocate said.