Kramer vs. Everyone

Photo of Larry Kramer by Joshua Bright for The New York Times

[The New York Times a few days ago published an excellent retrospective on Larry Kramer, “Twilight of a Difficult Man: Larry Kramer and the Birth of AIDS Activism.”
This has prompted a round of renewed adulation. Given Kramer’s famed contentiousness, I am sure he would not mind my dissenting view, which was published by Metro Weekly in November 2011, a month after the death of my esteemed longtime colleague Frank Kameny, who was something of a nemesis to Kramer. (By the way, today would have been Frank’s 92nd birthday.) This of course was before the Supreme Court victories in Windsor and Obergefell, and the SCOTUS ruling this year letting stand the California ban on conversion therapy for minors.]

Kramer vs. Everyone
by Richard J. Rosendall
Metro Weekly
November 10, 2011

Larry Kramer has kept his Cassandra act going for an awfully long time. To summarize: Why aren’t you angrier? Why aren’t you in the streets? How dare you have a life? I suppose it would piss him off if I pointed out that we were in the street two weeks ago for D.C.’s annual High Heel Race.

The gay prophet of doom talked to Chris Geidner last week in Metro Weekly, his unrelenting negativity on full display. His main comment about the marriage-equality movement, for example, is that every victory is met with another right-wing lawsuit. That’s like saying your joyous wedding was completely ruined by some crackpot protesting across the street.

Kramer says that his longtime nemesis Frank Kameny ”would get mad at me and say, ‘Look at how much we’ve accomplished.’ Well, I don’t think we’ve accomplished all that much.” He claims Kameny was too busy celebrating past victories to notice what remained unfinished. Um, Larry, are you aware that Frank’s lifelong goal of ending the military gay ban was only accomplished three weeks before his death?

Years ago, Kramer spoke at New York’s Cooper Union on the theme, ”It’s over!” Lest that give you the wrong impression, the speech was interminable. Pardon me, but if the sky is truly falling, our final hours could be better spent than enduring a tiresome harangue.

Kramer laments the shortage of activists, and asserts that little has been accomplished. But if half a century of struggle has really amounted to so little, why should anyone bother? Of the gains he does acknowledge, he claims “we didn’t do much to get there. More of us are here, more of us are out, because that’s the nature of life today….”

What planet is Kramer on? When Kameny started, legal, psychiatric and religious authorities marginalized gay people as criminal, pathological and sinful. It was thanks not to “the nature of life” but to efforts by many brave and persistent people that the sodomy laws were overturned, homosexuality was removed as a mental disorder, and many religious denominations affirmed their gay and lesbian congregants. We have won the right to serve openly in the military, while several states and the District of Columbia have won civil marriage equality.

These are crumbs, according to Kramer, who thinks that until we have total equality, we have nothing. So he notes dismissively that relatively few of us are in the military, and claims that the lack of federal recognition reduces our marriages to a “feel-good … cowardly evasion.” On the contrary, same-sex married couples enjoy hundreds of protections at the state and local level. As to our gains in the military being irrelevant, let him say that to the gay servicemembers who bore Kameny’s casket last week.

Unlike Kramer, I can handle shades of gray, so had I been a producer back in the 1980s, I’d have gone against D.C. theater bigwigs Zelda Fichandler and Roger Stevens and put on his play, The Normal Heart. I am used to dealing with difficult people, so I can acknowledge Kramer’s gifts while still objecting to his boorishness.

Kramer dismisses President Obama’s hospital visitation memo because it’s never been a problem for him. Geidner observes that many places in the country are not as welcoming as New York City. Ignoring this fine jab, Kramer says that what he calls the Human Rights Campaign’s “pebble at a time” approach should be replaced by bricks. He adds that those who are happy to go home at night are in denial.

Maybe those people lack the moral clarity to accept the superiority of Kramer’s high-minded rage. Or maybe he should get over himself and respect the choices and contributions of others.

Copyright © 2011 by Richard J. Rosendall. All rights reserved.



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