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Sounding the Clarion Call… Again

Sounding the Clarion Call… Again


In March of 1987, Larry Kramer, was a last minute replacement for an ailing Nora Ephorn at New York City's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center's "Second Tuesday" lecture series. His angry and impassioned call to action in the face of the AIDS epidemic resulted in the formation that night of the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power, or ACTUP. Less than two weeks later ACTUP held the now historic March on Wall Street and erupted on to the national stage and conscience refusing to be ignored because "SILENCE = DEATH." ACTUP's radical, creative activism and relentless militant tactics rapidly spread with every accomplishment. While recent years have seen its numbers and visibility diminish, ACTUP's global record of achievement stands unparalleled history. That was then. Fast forward to now. On the second Tuesday in March 2007, Larry Kramer marked ACTUP's founding by returning to The LGBT Center and speaking in the same room where it all began twenty years ago. It was an overflow audience, with many in attendance who had been there the first time too. Anniversary or not, anyone familiar with Larry Kramer knew better than to expect nostalgic contemplation or sweet sentimentality when he took the stage. For him the occasion was marked by fear that the "heroic work" and accomplishments of ACTUP would be forgotten and the painful loss of so many of his "children" who "did not live to enjoy the benefits of their courage... The life expectancy after infection by HIV is now thirty-five years... That is because of ACT UP." Just as he had done twenty years before, he transformed his fear, pain and grief into anger to ignite passions and incite action. As always, Larry was there is give us all a collective kick in the ass. "How could a population of gay people... who did all this, be so relatively useless now? Doesn't anything make anyone angry?... I wish I could make all gay people everywhere accept this one fact I know to be an undisputed truth. We are hated. Haven't enough of us died for all of us to believe this?... the old ACT UP we knew is no longer useful enough to the needs that we have now... We must field an organized army... a gay army with gay leaders fighting for gay people under a gay flag, against our common enemies!" At the conclusion of his speech the palpable, kinetic, and fearless energy was like nothing I've experienced. With long time activist Ann Northrop facilitating, plans were made to protest General Peter Pace calling gays "immoral," in Times Square. Once again the call to action had been answered with the hope that this again was just the beginning. A day and half later the "ACTUP Army," (as it was being called), converged on the military recruiting station in Times Square at noon with protest posters, rainbow flags and bandanas, and a giant rainbow "ribbon" three feet wide and 50 feet long! The militia of more than 200, including former Governor of New Jersey, Jim McGrevy, chanted "War is immoral! Gays are fabulous!" and called for the resignation of General Pace. Reporters, photographers and television crews from over 20 media outlets covered the event. At the height of the hour long demonstration, Mark Forman, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, head Rabbi of Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, carried the giant ribbon across Seventh Avenue, bringing midtown traffic to a halt. When police confiscated the ribbon and ordered them to leave, they refused and sat down. The police arrested them and they were taken away to the cheers of both protesters and bystanders alike. In its first 48 hours the new force in gay activist was already "pushing back." More importantly they were inspiring a new generation of activists. As Allen Settle, a student at Columbia University put it, "It was exhilarating! I felt like we were having an impact, actually making a difference!" That evening at ACTUP's weekly meeting the protesters discussed the army's future and prepared for"No More Bull! a March on Wall Street for universal health care" on March 29th. While spirits ran high with heated debate, the need to effectively build and organize the army became paramount. Solving issues of identity and the legacy of ACTUP and outreach to gay youth and people of color would take time, but it was agreed to continue taking action as events warranted. It remains to be seen if this is the new gay activism or the last hurrah of a great organization withering away. In light of the verbal attacks on LGBT people from all sides recently, our community cannot afford "to wait and see." It must fully support their army NOW. When a presidential candidate can verbally attack us, how long before attacks become institutionalized persecution? And who will save us then? Additional Info:

To see streaming video of Larry Kramer's speech or read the full text, go to... To find out more about ACTUP20 a march on Wall Street March 29th, go to...

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