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Larry Kramer, The Once and Future Activist

By Lawrence Pfeil, Jr.

“He has said again and again, and I think it is truly, truly felt by him, that he loves gay people and considers us all his children.”

–  Peter Staley, ACTUP and AIDS Activist

Maybe it is that insight which helps explain the passion, outrage, and relentless fury with which Larry Kramer took on the world.

For most people being an Oscar nominated, Tony, Obie, and Emmy winning, Pulitzer Prize finalist, and prolific author would be enough for one lifetime. But Larry Kramer, born June 25, 1935, was also at the forefront of the fight for LGBT+ Civil Rights; sounded the clarion’s call when AIDS first appeared; founded Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the first HIV/AIDS human services organization; harnessed the energy and rage of LGBTQ youth to ACTUP when health and government officials didn’t care; and warned an entire community that SILENCE=DEATH.

To be sure, Larry Kramer could be a hard pill to swallow whether you were standing shoulder to shoulder with him or God help you, going nose to nose against him.  But as Frank Bruni of The New York Times so eloquently observed in a 2014 article, he was always on the side of the angels.

 “The Angel in Larry Kramer” 

credit: Ben Wiseman


On March 13, 2007 at New York City’s LGBT Center, Larry Kramer gave a speech to a standing room only crowd in attendance marking the 20th anniversary of the speech he gave which ignited/created AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power — ACTUP.

It was a night I’ll never forget.  The 71-year-old titan of our Community spoke for well over an hour holding those present silent and hanging on every word. Larry evoked laughter at the serendipitous story of how he came to fill-in at the last minute twenty years ago; grief and tears for those who fought knowing they could save themselves; and astonishment at the stunning list of achievement by ACTUP.

“As we know, historians do not include gay anything in their histories. Gays are never included in the history of anything…  Dr. Fauci now tells the world that modern medicine can be divided into two periods. Before us and after us. ‘ACT UP put medicine back in the hands of the patients, which is where it belongs,’ he said to the New Yorker.”

As it happened, it was also the day that then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Peter Pace had made a public statement calling the estimated 65,000 gay and lesbian men and women serving in the military “immoral.”  It prompted Larry to unleash his rage that night.

“We are not crumbs! We must not accept crumbs! …They don’t want us here. When are we going to face up to this? …I wish I could make all gay people everywhere accept this one fact I know to be an undisputed truth. We are hated. Haven’t enough of us died for all of us to believe this?

Larry Kramer gave his speech that night in reflection and recognition of ACTUP, but also as a call to action for a “Gay Army” to fightback against the hate.  In light of SCOTUS overturning ROE v Wade and Justice Thomas’s concurrent opinion stating previous SCOTUS decisions about LGBTQ rights should be reconsidered, fifteen years later Larry’s words seem prophetic.

“Mark Harrington said to me last week that one of the great things about ACT UP was that it made us proud to be gay. Our activism came out of love. Our activism came out of our love for each other as we tried to take care of each other, and to keep each other alive…

I also know that any organization that we start now must be an army. You have resisted this word in the past. Perhaps now that the man in charge of America’s army is calling you immoral you won’t resist it army anymore… Why do I think we need the word “army”? Because it connotes strength and discipline, which we desperately need to convey. Because it scares people, and God knows nobody is all that scared of us…

We have right on our side and we must make everyone know it.”

The full text of his speech, “WE ARE NOT CRUMBS; WE MUST NOT ACCEPT CRUMBS — Remarks on the occasion of the 20th Anniversary of ACT UP” is available HERE  It’s well worth reading.

Larry Kramer died May 27, 2020.  He published his final book, The American People: Volume 2: The Brutality of Fact: A Novel on January 7, 2020.  So what drove Larry Kramer?  Perhaps as any good parent does, he simply wanted a better life for his children.

Which begs the questions, what do we want for our children and what are we going to do for it?


“Where’s the outrage?”

— Larry Kramer

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“‘Beyond LOVING’ a Short Film Chronicles the Power of Men in Love”

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2 thoughts on “Larry Kramer, The Once and Future Activist

  • Amazing commentary. I would like for this piece to gain traction.
    Please upload to all social media.


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