Larry Kramer Speaks In The Pines

by Fire Island News

Fire Island News

Tuesday August 23, 2011

It was a coming home of sorts for Larry Kramer when he spoke about his life, career and activism at the Blue Whale in Fire Island Pines on Saturday, July 16.

The outspoken author, playwright and activist came to the Pines roughly a month after the revival of "The Normal Heart" won three Tony Awards. The play opened at the Golden Theatre on April 19, and ran for 12 weeks.

Kramer himself spoke on the Beacon Theatre stage during the Tonys.

"Everybody's been in tears since day one," said Kramer. "It's been such a blessed experience for everyone involved," he said.

The initial response to Kramer's 1978 novel "Faggots" was anything but laudatory.

New York Times reporter Patrick Healy read an excerpt from the book in which main character Fred Lemish, a 30-year-old man who weighs 150 lbs., visits the Pines for the first time by himself in the mid-1970s. Upon his arrival in the hamlet, he saw 1,000 beautiful men dancing at the Botel. "Everybody was gorgeous-and I mean everybody," said Kramer. "Everybody took drugs. Everybody fucked all the time. It was a big party and it was never ending."

"Faggots" was largely critical of the Pines during this pre-AIDS era. Kramer himself was even banned from the grocery store once the novel came out. He stressed, however, his personal loneliness was among the factors that prompted him to write "Faggots."

"I wanted desperately to fall in love and it didn't work out," said Kramer. "I really wanted to explore the gay world in a way I had never read before."

Kramer Responds to AIDS

Kramer was among the first Fire Islanders to respond to what became known as AIDS after the Centers for Disease Control reported the first cases of the virus in June 1981.

He and a handful of other men began to collect money for the Gay Cancer Fund in the summer of 1981. The group raised $124 over Labor Day weekend in 1981, but Kramer said the majority of Pines residents and visitors kept their heads in the sand about the epidemic. "They stayed in the sand through the founding of GMHC [Gay Men's Health Crisis] and through the founding of ACT-UP," he said, noting businesses in the Pines and in Cherry Grove initially refused to allow them to fundraise on their property. "People did not want to know. The Jews did not want to know: How many Jews were able to get out of Germany in time? Very few."

Kramer co-founded GMHC in Jan. 1982, but the outspoken activist resigned from the HIV/AIDS service organization's board of directors a year later over differences in the group's direction and tactics. Ironically, GMHC held a meet-and-greet at Whyte Hall immediately after Kramer's appearance.

"They certainly weren't the child I wanted them to be," said Kramer.

Kramer spurred the creation of ACT-UP after he spoke at the LGBT Community Center in lower Manhattan in March 1987."Hundreds of people were scared shitless and they were willing to do anything they could," he recalled.

Kramer has frequently used strong language to criticize what he describes as an ongoing complacency among gay people. He once again blasted the 25 percent of gay voters who supported then-President George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential election, and he scoffed at Healy's question about whether he thinks he has been too hard on gay people.

"Fuck being hard," he scoffed. "Being honest is being hard."

Kramer also weighed in on more contemporary gay issues-including the passage of New York's marriage equality law on June 24. "I don't think we have gay marriage in New York," he said. "We have feel good gay marriages in New York. The only marriage that makes any sense is a federal marriage."

Kramer described President Barack Obama as a "wuss" for his stance towards LGBT issues.

The Obama administration announced in February that it would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court. A White House spokesperson announced on Tuesday, July 19, that the president supports a bill that would repeal DOMA. The Pentagon and Obama on Friday, July 22, certified the repeal of the military's ban on openly gay and lesbian servicemembers.

A growing number of LGBT activists continue to call upon Obama to support marriage for same-sex couples.

"He says all the right things and he doesn't do it," said Kramer.

Healy also asked Kramer his thoughts on the "It Gets Better" project that has used videos with celebrities, politicians, sports teams and average people to highlight classroom bullying after a spate of LGBT teenager suicides grabbed national headlines last fall. "I'm still alive," said Kramer. "David (his partner) and I are together. I don't like that question if you don't mind me saying so. There's always more to do."

Kramer has no regrets.

"I don't think I do anything that is special," he said. "I use my brains. I use my voice and I point out the things I want. I am gay. I am proud to be gay and I want everybody else to feel that. And I don't always see that."

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