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NO MORE AIDS/HIV DISCRIMINATION!!
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LARRY KRAMER


(Remarks on the occasion of the 20th Anniversary of ACT UP given at the NYC Gay Community Center on March 13th, 2007 with Rodger McFarlane, Eric Sawyer, Jim Eigo, Peter Staley, Troy Masters, Mark Harrington, David Webster, Jeremy Waldron, and Hannah Arendt contributing.)

Larry Kramer: "We Are Not Crumbs;
We Must Not Accept Crumbs"

By Larry Kramer


One day AIDS came along. It happened fast. Almost every man I was friendly with died. Eric still talks about his first boyfriend, 180 pounds, 28 years old, former college athlete, who became a 119 pound bag of bones covered in purple splotches in months. Many of us will always have memories like this that we can never escape.

Out of this came ACT UP. We grew to have chapters and affinity groups and spin-offs and affiliations all over the world. Hundreds of men and women once met weekly in New York City alone. Every single treatment against HIV is out there because of activists who forced these drugs out of the system, out of the labs, out of the pharmaceutical companies, out of the government, into the world. It is an achievement unlike any other in the history of the world. All gay men and women must let ourselves feel colossally proud of such an achievement. Hundreds of millions of people will be healthier because of us. Would that they could be grateful to us for saving their lives.

So many people have forgotten, or never knew what it was like. We must never let anyone forget that no one, and I mean no one, wanted to help dying faggots. Sen. Edward Kennedy described it in 2006 as the "appalling indifference to the suffering of so many." Ronald Reagan had made it very clear that he was "irrevocably opposed" to anything to do with homosexuality. It would be seven years into his reign before he even said the word "AIDS" out loud, by which time almost every gay man in the entire world who'd had sex with another man had been exposed to the virus. During this entire time his government issued not one single health warning, not one single word of caution. Who cares if a faggot dies. I believe that Ronald Reagan is responsible for more deaths than Adolf Hitler. This is not hyperbole. This is fact.

These are just a few of the things ACT UP did to make the world pay attention: We invaded the offices of drug companies and scientific laboratories and chained ourselves to the desks of those in charge. We chained ourselves to the trucks trying to deliver a drug company's products. We liberally poured buckets of fake blood in public places. We closed the tunnels and bridges of New York and San Francisco. Our Catholic kids stormed St. Patrick's at Sunday Mass and spit out Cardinal O’Connor's host. We tossed the ashes from dead bodies from their urns on to the White House lawn. We draped a gigantic condom over Jesse Helms'; house. We infiltrated the floor of the New York Stock Exchange for the first time in its history so we could confetti the place with flyers urging the brokers to "SELL WELLCOME." We boarded ourselves up inside Burroughs-Wellcome, (now named GlaxoSmithKline), which owns AZT, in Research Triangle so they had to blast us out. We had regular demonstrations, Die-Ins we called them, at the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health, at City Halls, at the White House, in the halls of Congress, at government buildings everywhere, starting with our first demonstration on Wall Street, where crowds of us lay flat on the ground with our arms crossed over our chests or holding cardboard tombstones until the cops had to cart us away by the vans-full. We had massive demonstrations at the FDA and the NIH. There was no important meeting anywhere that we did not invade, interrupt, and infiltrate. We threatened Bristol-Myers that if they did not distribute it immediately we would manufacture it ourselves and distribute a promising drug some San Francisco activists had stolen from its Canadian factory and had duplicated. (The drug, now known as Videx, was released. Ironically Videx was discovered at Yale, where I went to school and with whom I am still engaged in annoyingly delicious activist battles to shape them up; they too are a stubborn lot.) We utterly destroyed a Hoffmann-LaRoche luncheon when they delayed a decent drug's release. And always, we went after the New York Times for their shockingly, tragically, inept reporting of this plague. We plastered this city with tens of thousands of stickers reading, "Gina Kolata of the New York Times is the worst AIDS reporter in America." We picketed the Fifth Avenue home of the publisher of the Times, one Arthur Sulzberger. We picketed everywhere. You name a gross impediment and we picketed there, from our historic 24-hour round the clock for seven days and nights picket of Sloan Kettering to another hateful murderer, our closeted mayor, Edward I. Koch. 3000 of us picketed that monster at City Hall. And, always we protested against our ignoble presidents: Reagan. We actually booed him at a huge AmFAR benefit in Washington. He was not amused. And Bush. 2500 of us actually tracked him down at his vacation home in Kennebunkport, Maine, which did not know what had hit it. And Clinton. I cannot tell you what a disappointment he was for us. He was such a bullshitter, as I fear his wife to be. And Bush again. The newest and most evil emperor in the fullest most repellant plumage. We can no longer summon those kinds of numbers to go after him.

A lot of us got arrested a lot of times. A lot of us. A lot of us. We kept our lawyer members busy. It actually was a wonderful feeling being locked up behind bars in cells with the brothers and sisters you have fought with side by side for what you fervently believe is right.

Slowly we were noticed and even more slowly we were listened to.

Along this journey some of our members taught themselves so much about our illness and the science of it and the politics of it and the bureaucracy of it that we soon knew more than anyone else did. We got ourselves into meetings with drug company scientists who could not believe our people weren't doctors. I took a group to a meeting with Dr. Anthony Fauci, whom I had called our chief murderer in publications across the land. Dr. Fauci was and still is the government's chief AIDS person, the Director of Infectious Diseases at NIH. We were able to show him how inferior all his plans and ideas under consideration were compared to the ones that we had figured out in minute detail. We told him what they should be doing and were not doing. We showed him how he and all his staff of doctors and scientists and researchers and statisticians did not understand this patient population and that we did. By then we had located our own doctors and scientists and researchers and statisticians to talk to, some of them even joining us. When our ideas were tried, they worked. We were consistently right. Our "chief murderer" Dr. Fauci became our hero when he opened the doors at NIH and let us in, an historic moment and an historic gesture. Soon we were on the very committees we had picketed, and soon we were making the most important decisions for treating our own bodies. We redesigned the whole system of clinical trials that is in use to this day for every major illness. And of course, we got those drugs out. And the FDA approval for a new drug that once took an average of 7-12 years can now be had in less than one. ACT UP did all this. "My children you must forgive me for coming to think of them as that"most of whom are dead. You must have some idea what it is like when your children die. Most of them did not live to enjoy the benefits of their courage. They were courageous because they knew they might die. They could and were willing to fight because they felt they soon would die and there was nothing to lose, and maybe everything to gain.

And of course funeral after funeral after funeral. We made funerals into an art form, too, just as our demonstrations, our street theater, our graphics, many of which are now in museums and art galleries, were all art forms as well. God, we were so creative as we were dying.

It is important to celebrate. But it is hard to do so when so many of us aren't here. At least that is the way for me. I know we are twenty years old. It seems impossible to me that it has been so many years. I remember much of it as if it were yesterday. It is difficult to celebrate when one has such potent, painful tragic memories. We held so many of each other in our arms. One never forgets love like that. Make no mistake, AIDS was and is a terrible tragedy that need not have escalated into a worldwide plague. There were 41 cases when I started. There are some 75 million now. It takes a lot of help from a lot of enemies to rack up a tally like that.

Rodger McFarlane made this list of ACT UP's achievements: accelerated approval of investigational new drugs; expanded compassionate use of experimental drugs and new applications of existing drugs; mathematical alternatives to the deadly double-blind-placebo-controlled studies of old; rigorous statistical methods for community-based research models; accelerated and expanded research in basic immunology, virology, and pharmacology; public exposure of and procedural remedies to sweetheart practices between the NIH and FDA on one hand and pharmaceutical companies on the other (now, with our own decline, unfortunately out of control again); institutionalized consumer oversight and political scrutiny of FDA approvals for all drug classes and for vast NIH appropriations for research in every disease; state drug assistance programs; and vastly expanded consumer oversight of insurance and Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement formularies. Each of these reforms profoundly benefits the health and survival of hundreds of millions of people far, far beyond AIDS and will do so for generations to come.

PART 2 SOON