At 74, Larry Kramer is as feisty as ever

Posted on 18 Sep 2009 at 3:23pm
Activist Larry Kramer, below, and his partner David Webster, who co-owns the Dallas Eagle

Activist Larry Kramer, below, and his partner David Webster, who co-owns the Dallas Eagle. (Photo by Jim Cox)

It’s not good or hard to piss off legendary LGBT activist and ACT UP founder Larry Kramer, who’s in town for Dallas Pride this weekend. But I’m afraid I’ve managed to do just that. You see, I interviewed Kramer at length a while back for a story that’s in the Official 2009 Pride Guide (the magazine that’s tucked inside this week’s Voice), and I assured Kramer at the time that the article would be posted online. I was reminded later that we don’t post Pride Guide content online, because the magazine is paid for and produced by the Dallas Tavern Guild, not us. Anyhow, Kramer e-mailed me today to say that he’s arrived in Dallas and that he’s wondering where in the hell the story is. I tried to explain to him that it’s in the Pride Guide — which, incidentally, has now been inserted in two separate issues of the Voice — but he’s still not happy.

“ok i will go out and try and find a copy of the voice that has this insert,” Kramer just e-mailed me. “the one i picked up didnt have it. however it is very sad not to post it online. what does that cost you? nothing. it could go to the presumably many many thousands of your readers who will not get this insert. [Gay journalist] rex [wockner] told me that you were one of the best gay papers in the country. this action of yours does not quite bear this out. i am disappointed in you.”

Larry, I’m truly sorry, but just for you, I’ve obtained special permission to post the story here on our blog, which I’ve done after the jump. Also, I’d like to remind folks that Kramer will be at the Dallas Eagle for a meet and greet at 9 p.m. today, Friday, Sept. 18. He’ll also be at the Pride Festival on Sunday, and at the North Texas GLBT Chamber of Commerce’s Pride Dinner on Monday. In a way, it seems as though Harvey Milk protege Cleve Jones has stolen a little of Kramer’s activist thunder this weekend, but Kramer is as much of a legend if not more so. So I would urge everyone to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to catch up with both of them in the same weekend in Dallas. And again, my story about Kramer is after the jump. Have a great Pride!

By John Wright Dallas Voice

When legendary gay-rights activist Larry Kramer heard the initial news reports suggesting that the Dallas Eagle had been raided by authorities in July, he was pissed off and ready to do something about it.

After all, the incident occurred only two weeks after the Rainbow Lounge raid in Fort Worth, and the Dallas Eagle is co-owned by Kramer’s longtime partner, architect and interior designer David Webster.

“I thought, ‘Oh my God, Texas has got to learn to behave here,’” Kramer said recently by phone from the couple’s home in New York. “[Pissed off is] my middle name. I immediately swing into activist mode.”

Fortunately, Webster was able to calm Kramer down by explaining that it wasn’t really a raid, per se, and that it was the Eagle owners’ fault because they failed to ensure that the address on their liquor license had been updated.

“He admitted that they were wrong, so there wasn’t anything to really get angry about,” Kramer said. “David said, ‘Don’t you dare,’ and he was right.”

But make no mistake, the 74-year-old Kramer added, the restraint he mustered on this one occasion shouldn’t be viewed as a sign he’s mellowing with age.

“It’s just the reverse,” he said. “I’m saddened by the fact that I see so little anger out there, especially now when I think we [the LGBT community] would profit enormously by it. The president is not fulfilling some of his campaign promises to us, and that’s very disappointing, and I think we’re being far too patient and not nearly angry enough in showing him that we’re upset with him.

“I consider anger a very healthy emotion,” Kramer added. “It’s not about going out and murdering somebody. It’s about standing up and fighting back and saying, ‘I’m not going to take this anymore, I want to have every right that you have.’”

Kramer, an author and playwright who founded the direct action group ACT UP in response to the AIDS crisis in 1987, will serve as honorary grand marshal for Dallas’ Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade on Sept. 20. While Kramer said he’s a little nervous about traveling to conservative Texas — “I hope I don’t get shot,” he joked —he’s also honored to be chosen for the distinction.

“I’m at that stage of my life where most of the things I’ve done are many years in the past, so it’s nice that people remember me,” he said.

Kramer’s controversial style was first introduced to the community in his 1978 book “Faggots,” a scathing indictment of shallow, promiscuous gay relationships that he said was inspired by his initial affair with Webster.

Kramer and Webster maintain residences in New York and Connecticut, but Webster, who travels frequently for work, purchased a share of the Dallas Eagle after falling in love with the gay leather bar during a visit here.

Kramer said he and Webster were together for about four years in the 1970s before splitting up and not seeing each other for 17 years. They got back together in the early ’90s and have remained a couple ever since.

“It just gets better and better,” Kramer said of their relationship. “I wanted him from the very beginning, and it took a long time to get him, and now I’ve got him. It’s worked out beautifully. So for those of you with similar stories, take hope when it doesn’t work the first time.”

After penning “Faggots,” Kramer went on to co-found the Gay Men’s Health Crisis after witnessing the initial spread of HIV/AIDS among his friends. In 1985, Kramer wrote the well-known play, “The Normal Heart,” about the unresponsiveness of government and the apathy of the LGBT community toward the disease.

In 1987, frustrated with GMHC’s efforts, Kramer founded the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, or ACT UP, the street protest organization ultimately credited with changing public health policy toward HIV/AIDS.

But shortly after the group achieved its goals, Kramer said, it faded away, leaving what he considers a big void in the gay-rights movement.

“We need an ACT UP constantly and always,” he said. “ACT UP at its peak of success had several hundred chapters all over the world, and it’s because of ACT UP that every single one of those AIDS treatments is out there. We hammered and protested and put our lives on the lines and stormed the NIH [National Institutes of Health] and broke into drug companies. And we taught ourselves everything there was to know about how the system worked, and we worked it. And that’s how those drugs are out there. And as soon as we got the drugs, ACT UP sort of folded its tent, and we really need the equivalent of something like that that’s on guard every single day against our enemies, and we don’t have that.”

Not surprisingly, Kramer had some choice words for certain national gay-rights groups, but he also acknowledged that political advocacy is a necessary part of the movement.

“We must never stop with direct action — never, ever, ever — but the best direct action is what ACT UP learned to do,” he said. “You have the good cops and the bad cops. The bad cops are the street-fighters that go out there and do the direct action, and the good cops are the ones who learn everything about what they’re protesting.”

Asked about the recent rift between the nascent direct action group Queer LiberAction and more established gay-rights organizations in Dallas, Kramer said he wishes he could convince them to collaborate.

“The big problem in the gay world has always been that we’ve not learned how to work together, and that’s our tragedy,” Kramer said. “There’s absolutely no reason why these two groups shouldn’t work together, and respect each other’s turf and territory and philosophy, and share information. They’re both formed to go after the same enemy. And let’s call a spade a spade: The enemy is homophobia, the fact that we’re hated.

“I don’t think we’re willing to accept the fact that we’re hated, especially in a place like Texas,” he added. “The hate is tangible, and we don’t face up to that as a fact, and we try to be nice to everybody or whatever, which doesn’t get you anywhere — or doesn’t get you far enough, that’s for sure.”

Comments

comments

Powered by Facebook Comments