The death of Larry Kramer

“If my speech tonight doesn’t scare the shit out of you, we’re in real trouble. If what you’re hearing doesn’t rouse you to anger, fury, rage, and action, gay men will have no future here on earth. How long does it take before you get angry and fight back?” (Larry Kramer, 1987)

Larry Kramer By David Shankbon
Larry Kramer
By David Shankbone

Philadelphia FIGHT mourns the death of Larry Kramer, the most important AIDS activist in the history of the epidemic.  Founder of both the Gay Men’s Health Crisis and later ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, Larry was instrumental in the creation not one but both of the gay community’s responses to the AIDS epidemic.  Larry was a force in assuring first that there were services available to gay men in New York City, a strategy that was emulated all over the United States, and then, recognizing the limitations of a social services approach, however, needed, he turned his attention to sparking the rise of activism, with the goal of getting drugs into bodies as fast as possible.  His influence on the AIDS epidemic was recognized universally with Tony Fauci once saying “In American medicine, there are two eras. Before Larry and after Larry.”

We in Philadelphia, along with gay men and everyone affected by the epidemic worldwide, owe a tremendous debt to Larry.  If Philadelphia ACT UP hadn’t existed, neither would Philadelphia FIGHT.  The founders of FIGHT – Jonathan Lax, John Turner, and Jane Shull – met through ACT UP, along with Kiyoshi Kuromiya and many others crucial to our founding, development and success.  Larry’s vision,  recognizing that science would not be properly funded and supported unless there was a huge visible movement of people engaging in direct action, is the reason we have effective drugs today and we are within reach of a core.  This is not one of the reasons we have made this progress.  Activism is the only reason. The refusal of people with AIDS to give in and die is what enabled the development of the entire scientific apparatus we have today.  And those brave activists were inspired by Larry and by ACT UP.

At the end of his life, Larry had started to work on a play about COVID – 19.  “Show me a plague” he wrote, “and I’ll show you the world.” 

Rest in power Larry.   We will remember the lesson.