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Larry Kramer Wasn't Kind and Cuddly. He Was Effective

Kramer

The world is full of noise and noise makers. There are groups for every cause. Organizations for every -ism. Entities for every mission. 

There are seemingly millions of online platforms, social media channels, group and fan pages, and perpetual postings of an infinite order of hashtags. Boycotts, marches, campaigns, online challenges, and petitions are only outnumbered by the endless number of acronyms which stand for what are being stood-up for.

Which is why the passing of Larry Kramer feels so final. In an often-overwhelming sea of voices, he was an octave above, and that's why he and "silence=death" will live forever.

In this day and age, we are simply overrun with messaging, mottos and motus operandis. They pile atop one another, try to outpace each other and rarely outlive each other. ACT UP, Gay Men's Health Crisis, and Larry Kramer stood atop, outpaced and outlived them all. And what makes that more unusual is that Kramer and these organizations sprung up at a time when the realm was virtually and collectively against us.

In a world gone mad with protests, yelling, fighting, in-fighting, screaming, chanting, threatening, fireworks and firehoses, the sacrificial shouts from Larry Kramer pleading for help with HIV and AIDS rings indelibly, a dichotomous siren song of sin, suffering, and success.

With a society of demonstrators and marchers, carrying and toting placards and signs that bear rhymes, cries of redemption, calls for action, pleas of please, and words of hate, one sign with a pink triangle, two words and an equal sign still stands out and stands tall.

We have perhaps seen the last of the firebrand protestor who succeeded in busting out and busting through during a time when news outlets were limited, social media didn’t exist, and vigilance for gay men and LGBTQ+ health causes were non-existent and ignored. With his might, ferociousness, fortitude, grating personality, and unbridled persistence in the public eye, Larry Kramer was an anomaly and an anchor. He was unlike anyone before or after him, but arguably he is the last from an era where singular individuals led fights for righteousness.

It cannot be overstated that Kramer, who blazed a burning trail for dignity, respect, research, hope and treatment for HIV and AIDS can be uttered in the same breath as leaders, pioneers and heroes like Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mother Teresa. The age of giants leading singular charges has given way to a scattershot of heroes in the now, social media one-hit wonders, and “it” moments flipped to has-beens with the speed of a million clicks anointing the next cause du jour or fundraising challenge.

Kramer wasn't exactly the same as Mother Teresa, obviously. He would most likely have chafed at that comparison, but he did save lives, and had a passion for the lives that he saved. He certainly wasn’t an eloquent preacher like King, although his words did bite, and rather than be soft spoken, he chewed out without soft selling, calling out those who sold out at our expense. And you will probably never find his visage on a coin, because Kramer would not flip and there were never going to be two sides to his argument.

Nevertheless, for our community, Larry Kramer, despite all his bad-ass, bad boy image, will be forever revered and remembered as a sweet soul despite all the suffering, death, and destruction he experienced personally and witnessed as an activist. He was a pioneer for a cause that was a blight on society’s most condemnable. Fighting for AIDS and gays during a time when both were ignored by the government, spat upon by a homophobic culture, and ridiculed and ignored by a pious public.

While everyone ignorantly marginalized, stigmatized and minimized our sexuality and our plight, Kramer’s zeal allowed so many to sympathize, prioritize, and revitalize. He had the gall and the guts to take on a world that was abhorrently narrow-minded, and he succeeded — not completely, but enough where many millions can live healthy, longer lives in a world that is a little more accepting.

We can thank Larry Kramer for that. And we can mourn for his loss, and continue his fight, although it will be hard to do it without him, but he gave us a roaring, ripping, and at times riotous start that we can — and must — finish.

Kramer was the last of the singular giants whose lone voices represented a particular reason. His legacy lives on, not just with ACT UP and Gay Men’s Health Crisis, but in the hundreds, if not thousands, of clubs, organizations, societies, online communities, Facebook groups, and social accounts and hashtags that embody our community and everyone living with HIV. #larrykramer will endure and always be trending.

John Casey is a PR professional and an adjunct professor at Wagner College in New York City, and a frequent columnist for The Advocate. Follow John on Twitter @johntcaseyjr.  

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