Larry Kramer, LGBTQ+ rights advocate and playwright, fought the AIDS crisis as one of its most outspoken and disruptive activists. He co-founded The Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) in 1981 and founded the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) in 1987: the two most seminal organizations of the nascent HIV/AIDS movement. Mr. Kramer’s aggressive tactics put him at odds with the rest of the GMHC’s founders, so he left the organization in 1983.
In 1985, Mr. Kramer wrote his best known play, The Normal Heart, inspired by his outrage at the responses of the government, the GMHC, and the gay community at-large to the AIDS crisis. Disappointment in the LGBTQ+ community would continue to inform his activism and his anger. Often alienated and discredited by his more politically and socially palatable peers, Larry Kramer would not be silenced.
Mr. Kramer still lamented the apathy of the gay community in his 2018 New York Times op-ed, “For Gays, the Worst Is Yet to Come. Again.”:
“I have never been able to answer one question: Why have relatively few of us — out of so many millions — been willing to fight for their lives? I still can’t answer it and I continue to be very sad because of it. Are we prepared to fight the many fights piling up against us? Right now, I don’t think so. The worst is yet to come. Again. Yes, it makes me very sad. And still imploringly angry.”
The rage and outrage demonstrated by Mr. Kramer and others in the early years of the AIDS pandemic were critical forces in motivating research, treatment, legislation, the government, and the public at-large, as countless loved ones died around us. For that activism, we owe a debt of gratitude.
In 2018, after the Trump administration rolled back decades of advancements for LGBTQ+ health, we too found inspiration in the AIDS activism rally cry “fighting for our lives” referenced in Mr. Kramer’s op-ed of the same year. We fight still today. And whether we embrace Mr. Kramer’s style or a different style, it is right to acknowledge the legacy of this person who pushed us within our own communities to do better, be louder, and fight harder.
Larry Kramer died May 27 in Manhattan. He was 84. May he rest in peace. May his sadness and anger continue to inspire us in the fights now and those yet to come.