“Plague!” Larry Kramer, who died Wednesday at 84, shouted to a roomful of apathetic AIDS activists in 1991.
“Forty million infected people is a fucking plague, and nobody acts as if it is,” the founder of Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC) and ACT UP continued.
A longtime HIV survivor who underwent a liver transplant several years ago, Kramer died of pneumonia amid the current pandemic, although not from it.
Kramer's 1978 novel Faggots sparked controversy and his play The Normal Heart (1985) meshed AIDS activism with personal tragedy. His volatile brand of advocacy fueled a movement that forced the government and the world to finally pay attention to those who were infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
Amid the earliest-known AIDS cases in 1981, Kramer held a meeting in his New York City apartment to discuss the disease. GMHC, which began as a hotline and soon began offering services to the community, grew out of that meeting.
Several years later, Kramer helped found the direct-action group ACT UP, which staged protests informing the government, drug companies, and more that AIDS activists would not be ignored.
By 1991, Kramer was sick of the apathy that flooded activist groups and addressed it in the famous “plague” speech.
“Every person I talk to in every city, in every agency — gay, straight, AIDS— is as despondent as they can possibly be,” Kramer said.
It was there that he critiqued recent failures by organizations he’d founded.
“ACT UP has been taken over by a lunatic fringe,” he said, adding that its activists couldn’t agree on anything.
“I deserve a little fucking respect for what I have done in this world,” Kramer said to a smattering of applause. “And I don’t know what to do next.”
“I don’t know what kind of organization to start. I don’t know how to give advice. I don’t know how to lead anyone, should they want to follow," he continued.
"I don’t know what to write anymore. I don’t know how to write any more articles because I’ve said what I have said to you tonight in one form or another for 10 fucking years.”
Hearkening to President George H.W. Bush’s inaction at the time, Kramer emphasized that everyone needed to learn to work together.
“We are as good as dead,” Kramer said of any future failure to organize.
Watch the speech below.