Larry Kramer – He Changed Our Lives Simply By Refusing To Ever Remain Silent

Whenever you entered a space that Larry Kramer happened to be in, he was no doubt, the center of attention in that room, the nucleus. Being in the presence of this man was like being in the presence of an atmospheric being. While he was a legend in our community, to many he was simply “Larry”. Transparent actress and activist Alexandra Billings said of Kramer “his humor bit you and seemed to wake you up and remind you”.

Larry Kramer for The New York Times Magazine

While my own interaction with Kramer was brief, the impact was nonetheless powerful. I was awestruck that the being in front of me stood on the front lines of ACT UP in the eighties as a founder, wrote the stunningly powerful play The Normal Heart and was an original founder of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis. Books like Faggots and American People alarmingly forced the words contained in them directly into the inner workings of our brains, making us absorb and deal with issues and topics that were historically, always uncomfortable. The man standing in front of me was someone that myself and so many of my own friends had been blessed enough to stand on the shoulders of for many years. 

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In March 1987, Larry Kramer was invited to speak at The Lesbian and Gay Community Center, known today as simply just The Center. Dissatisfied with GMHC, an organization he co-founded, Kramer used his platform to speak as a call to action to start a new organization devoted to direct political action to fight AIDS and two days later ACT UP was formed. We’re sadden to learn that we lost Larry Kramer today. For many people Larry was a playwright they like to read, an activist they studied, or a gay icon they admired. For us he was our comrade, our friend, our brother. Today is a sad day for many and our hearts go out to Larry’s husband David as well as every single person who has been touched by Larry and the work that he dedicated his life to. Rest in power friend. We will keep honoring your name and spirit with action. ACT UP. FIGHT BACK. END AIDS.

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Larry Kramer left us today at the age of eighty four. In the midst of a pandemic. This dynamic irony is not lost on anyone, specifically Dr. Anthony Fauci, who finds himself back on the front lines of a new pandemic, fighting yet another White House resident who is consistently obtuse at the gravity of the situation they have found themselves in. Of Kramer, Fauci told the New York Times:

“Once you got past the rhetoric, you found that Larry Kramer made a lot of sense, and that he had a heart of gold.”

As the years worn on, their animosity wore down and the two developed a friendship, with Kramer recently telling the Times:

“We are friends again. I’m feeling sorry for how he’s being treated. I emailed him this, but his one line answer was, ‘Hunker down.’”

Predictably, Kramer’s sudden passing has resulted in an outpouring of complete adoration and much deserved tribute from those that Kramer knew, worked with, or who admired this man from afar. Advocates like writer Dan Savage, Prop 8 plaintiffs and gay marriage heroes Jeff Zarillo & Paul Katami and actors Billy Eichner, Mark Ruffalo, Matt Bomer (the latter two taking part in the film adaptation of Kramer’s landmark play The Normal Heart) all expressed their feelings in their unique way on the crater size hole that Kramer is leaving in this community.  

Larry Kramer leaves us today on the precipice of taking the reality we have all been served today and turning it into delicious art. He told John Leland for the New York Times regarding the play he was crafting about the pandemic, “It’s about gay people having to live through three plagues.”  HIV/AIDS, Covid-19, and the decline of the human body, an inevitability brought home to him last year when he fell and broke a leg in his apartment, then lay on the floor for hours waiting for a home attendant to arrive.

Christian Fuscarino, Executive Director of Garden State Equality shared with me how he feels we should move forward as a community. “When the federal government and Americans neglected the AIDS outbreak, Larry Kramer aggressively forced the issue front-and-center so it could no longer be ignored. In his memory, we must all continue to work each and every day to end the epidemic”.

This is the Larry Kramer that I will choose to remember. The anger, the passion and the frightening ferocity in his voice when he spoke, and the how terribly desperately he was trying to save lives in our community. Sometimes from ourselves. His words remain absolutely haunting and painfully true. 

My friend and Sirius XM host Larry Flick interviewed Kramer and took away this sage, albeit brief, piece of advice. It sums up Larry Kramer and his contributions to our community perfectly. 

“Communities are small. They are a pie baking contest. As a gay man, you are part of a population of people. Own the bigness of who you are, and you can and will change the world”

For information on ACT UP and to read its tribute to Kramer, head over to actupny.com