It was March 10, 1987, and Larry Kramer was preparing himself to give the speech that would move people to action, the speech that would be heard across America, the speech that would found a grassroots political action group. Larry had had enough of the deaths, he had had enough of the NIH and FDA, and he had had enough of the false hope. Larry Kramer now became known as one of the legendary kings of the LGBTQ+ community for his combative fight for the gay community. This speech became known as the speech that made the public move towards a better future, to open the eyes of those who chose to look away while people were dying.

Larry Kramer was born in Connecticut on June 25, 1935, into a Jewish family. He attended Yale University in 1953 and graduated class of 1957. Kramer made his career in the world of film making. For more than a decade he wrote and produced films that won Academy Award nominations, one of which was for his screenplay of the film version of D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love. Kramer had a very successful career in the movie industry and was a very good writer.1 But in June of 1981, the first cases of AIDS were reported in the United States. This disease spread in certain populations, like among gay and bisexual men, and among racial and ethnic minorities. Larry Kramer stated,” I started making a list of how many people I knew and it was hundreds. People don’t comprehend that. People really were dying like flies.” In the same year, Kramer hosted a meeting in his apartment that would later become the Gay Men’s Health Crisis. Although, Kramer was nothing close to a pacifist. He was kicked out of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis in 1983 because of his confrontational style.2 Larry Kramer never kept silent. He always called out health workers and peers for their ignorance towards the disease and for there not being enough information on safe sex. Larry Kramer gave a speech on March 10, 1987, at the Lesbian and Gay community services center in New York City. “1987 We have little to be proud of this Gay Pride week.” He then called out the NIH for having money they never spent for research that could help cure AIDS or just give the correct medications to stall death a bit longer until it could be controlled. He also called them out for the horrible facilities they had for AIDS patients, which looked more like a prison where the patients lay there getting worse and worse waiting for their death. Six years and no change.3

Portrait of American author, AIDS campaigner and gay rights activist Larry Kramer, founder of ACT-UP and the Gay Men’s Health Crisis group, posing in front of a bookshelf in his home | New York City | Credit to Sara Krulwich | Getty Images

He also made sure to call out his own gay and lesbian community for not having the urge to make a change. They saw what was going on in their own community, but were just ignoring it. They watched their friends die and still pretended that the government was going to help them. Kramer saw that there was no sense of urgency among them when people were dying every day. AIDS was a plague. Americans, a son, a brother, a sister, a friend were dying every day and the government was not working fast enough to save them. The speech demanded that the public and the gay community go talk to school boards to get them to teach sex education in school. His speech was the fire that the nation needed. What Kramer truly wanted was to bring awareness of the disease and to lower the prices of the drug AZT so that it could be available to the victims dying of the AIDS disease. Kramer truly wanted change, so he asked interested parties to join him to form a political activist group. Thus ACT UP! was born. With this organization, Kramer got his voice heard and made sure others’ voices were heard as well. His tactics were to go directly to the government and have no shame while doing it. Kramer once dumped the ashes of a young friend onto the South Lawn of the White House. He made this move very symbolic, as he was claiming that it was the governments’ fault for his friend’s death, for not having the proper medications available nor the proper care.4 He also helped wrap Senator Jesse Helms’ home in a condom to promote safe sex, and to promote the need for schools to be teaching young teens about the importance of safe sex. Another great tactic was the constant nagging and shaming of the NIH and FDA as he already had in his speech he kept the momentum going until a true change started to happen.5

“Die-ins” | A protest in front of the New York Stock Exchange organized by Act Up, a group Mr. Kramer founded, against the high cost of the HIV treatment drug AZT | 1989 | Credit to Tim Clary | Associated Press

Larry Kramer has been an influential voice, not only for the LGBTQ+ community but also for the fight against the AIDS epidemic that swept the nation in the 1980s and 1990s. Because of Kramer and that one speech in New York City on March 10, 1987, Kramer helped turn the tide of the epidemic. He not only blamed the government and powerful organizations like the FDA and NIH, but he also made sure to let his own community know that if you pretended as if the disease didn’t exist because you didn’t have it, you were doing as much damage as the ones who would rather see you die than live. Because of his actions and words and organization, AIDS research began to be a top priority for scientists to find cures or to find better medications. He helped “putting medical treatment in the hands of patients, changing medicine in this country, and getting drugs to more people faster.”6 ACT UP used any action that could generate a public view for its cause. This made the organization gain a lot of news coverage, which brought a new age of AIDS awareness. He led the way to protest in a militant style. He gave inspiration to the gay liberation movement and other small groups that were raised that used similar actions to achieve success. Larry Kramer is still and forever will be a gay legend in the LGBTQ+ community that will forever be admired and cherished for his amazing work and courage.7

  1. Salem Press Encyclopedia of Literature, 2019, s.v. “Larry Kramer,” by James B Graves.
  2. John Leland, “Twilight of a Difficult Man: Larry Kramer and the Birth of AIDS Activism,” The New York Times, The New York Times. May 19, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/19/nyregion/larry-kramer-and-the-birth-of-aids-activism.html.
  3. Peter F. Cohen, Love, and Anger: Essays on AIDS, Activism, and Politics (New York: Haworth Press, 1998), 79-81.
  4. Peter F. Cohen, Love and Anger: Essays on AIDS, Activism, and Politics (New York: Haworth Press, 1998), 79-81.
  5. Larry Kramer, Reports from the Holocaust: The Making of an AIDS Activist (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989), 10-13.
  6. David France, “How to Survive a Plague: The Inside Story of How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016.),10-13.
  7. John Leland, “Twilight of a Difficult Man: Larry Kramer and the Birth of AIDS Activism,” The New York Times, The New York Times. May 19, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/19/nyregion/larry-kramer-and-the-birth-of-aids-activism.html.

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20 Responses

  1. This article caught my attention from the title! Well written and informative! Larry Kramer’s actions have helped the lives of many as well as saving them. I am glad he did not give up until people listened! AIDS is not something to you should be ashamed of, any disease or illness you obtain is out of your hands especially when there was no awareness, and people don’t know they had it.

  2. Ive read about the AIDS epidemic and how it affected so many people in the United States but you never really hear about people that helped fight the issue especially the way that Larry did. Its great to see that he wouldnt stand down while the government and other organizations refused to really help out with the issue and he even called out those that remained silent. He did a great job in provoking people into helping out and making the government realize that they should be doing more to help.

  3. I have always heard of the AIDS epidemic that left its impact on American history but never truly went into depth about the whole situation. To read about the lacking response from the government to help combat this disease during its peak does not surprise me, as I can only imagine the attitudes of the government and public were much harsher for those of the LGBTQ+ community back then than today’s current attitudes. Nevertheless, to compare the actions of the government of the past to the present, one can see the absolute difference in response and handle such epidemics/pandemics (as the coronavirus has created a global presence). Even though there may be differing opinions on how well the government is handling the current pandemic, it is above the actions of the previous government, in which funds and time for research were squandered and the lives of those affected were given little sympathy.

  4. I did not know about Larry Kramer, but after reading this article I can see that he is a significant persona in raising awareness of AIDS. His honesty and courage to demand change from higher authorities like the NIG and FDA is not something many do, which is what makes him unique. It’s surprising that he hosted a meeting in his apartment for Gay Men’s Health Crisis and later was kicked out for being outspoken. I’m glad that he was able to not only call out the large companies, but also those who were being bystanders and not demanding for anything to be done. Great article!

  5. First the beginning paragraph of this article was really good and grabbed my attention to the article immediately and made me want to keep reading. I think Larry Kramer was an great activist for something that needed change and attention. Kramer brought attention to an issue that was being ignored and because of it many people today now are able to receive the attention and medication needed to continue to live normal lives.

  6. I liked a lot the use of the front image, it conveys very much the spirit of Kramer and his strenght when verbally combatting injustice and indifference derived from the political elites. I would have liked to hear more details on the state of the people with AIDS, though. Despite it being a descriptive article, I feel like it would have suited well. I like the fact that the narrowed focus of the article is the speech that Kramer gave, it summarizes the character in a majestic way and it engages the reader throughout the whole article. Great article!

  7. I initially had never really heard of the name Larry Kramer, but it was very interesting to read about how he inspired movement on people with his speech. Initially I noticed that he focused more on the LGBTQ community even though that was a community that wasn’t as widely recognized as it is now, but as I kept reading I realized that he was actually trying to talk some sense into everyone. I’m sure that his movement to talk about AIDS and safe sex is one of the reasons why we currently have those safe sex lessons in school, props to him for raising awareness about this issue.

  8. I am glad that Larry Kramer would bring so much attention to AIDS. Like the article says AIDS was killing people left and right and no one seemed to be doing anything about it. Kramer’s raising of awareness really changes the way the world viewed AIDS and I think helped everyone int the United States live a safer life. Who knows what the state of America would be without Larry Kramer.

  9. Larry Kramer’s name would come around now and again, but I never got to learn who he is until now. He spoke out against the AIDS issue and sure he got kicked out of Gay Men’s Health just because he was feisty, but he did it for a reason. He was worried and concerned for others. The people around him were dying and he could not take it anymore. He sparked a change in America.

  10. This article seriously caught my attention! Larry Kramer is a hero, he reformed informed and proposed great tactics in revolutionizing what it means to be an activist. His work, of course, is one of a kind, he not only stood by the LGBTQ community but also played a big role in raising awareness of the epidemic in the community, he also did a great job in provoking the government as to step up their game and do something to stop this plague.

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