HARTFORD, Connecticut, U.S.A. – “We have been here since the very beginning,” said Larry Kramer about gay people in America, but added, “From the very beginning, we were not wanted.”
Speaking at the Mark Twain House in Hartford recently, the 80-year-old author and activist asked, “How can such a growing population be ignored for so many centuries?”
Kramer, a founder of Gay Men’s Health Crisis and ACT UP – two early organizations fighting for help for people stricken with AIDS – is an award-winning playwright and novelist.
With his latest book, The American People: Volume 1: Search for My Heart: A Novel, Kramer aims to fill in the role of gays in American history.
“I wanted to somehow write a history of America,” he said. “I wanted to tell the world, somehow, not only about me, but all the gay people who have been here.”
While he prefers to think of it as a real history book, his work is being marketed as a novel, due to the controversial nature of some of his claims, such as that President George Washington had a secret affair with founding father Alexander Hamilton.
Kramer also included Mark Twain as a “late addition” to his novel, crediting him with writing Huckleberry Finn, which Kramer labeled “the first gay novel.”
“Not only was he gay, he was flamboyantly gay,” Kramer said about Twain.
“I believe that all these people I wrote about were gay,” said Kramer in defense of his book. When people ask if he can prove it, the writer simply asks in return, “Can you prove I’m wrong?”
Kramer also spoke on his years as an activist fighting for the right to AIDS treatment, saying that AIDS medicine exists today because of the work of activists, not the government or the National Institute of Health.
Kramer and others involved in ACT UP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power,) took it upon themselves to become educated and advocate for treatment.
“We were all terrified of dying at that point and it brought out such a sense of togetherness.”
It is this unity that is missing in today’s activism, said Kramer.
“We’re not a very united population. We’re not connected with each other as a whole,” he said.
“We’re a big population and we’ve seen quite recently that we can exert that power,” said Kramer, referring to the right to same-sex marriage granted just last year. “Unfortunately activism is a seven days a week job. Most gay people aren’t interested in plugging into any activist kind of activity.”
The United States needs to be a leader in terms of gay rights and finding a treatment for AIDS, said Kramer. “This is the country that put a man on the moon … it can do a lot of things when it wants to.”
The activist movement in America, he said, still has “a lot of work to do.”
Meanwhile Kramer is still keeping up his work, writing another play and planning a sequel for his award-winning play “The Normal Heart,” which tells the story of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s.
“What keeps me going today? Anger,” said Kramer, calling it the “the best motivator” he knows.
“I can’t walk down the street with my boyfriend, now husband, without someone calling us a name or throwing something at us.”
But Kramer said despite all the hardship, there is still a fight left to win. “You just have to somehow hold onto hope.”
Mugdha Gurram is a Senior Reporter for Youth Journalism International.
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