'You Can Never Not Fight Back!'

A conversation with Larry Kramer about the current state of gay activism

Solomon: True. But where I don't completely agree is that the Right has been putting forth anti-gay ballot initiatives of one kind or another for a couple of decades now. They can whip up anger and motivate people around homophobia no matter what we do or don't do, no matter what we demand or don't demand.

Kramer: Yes. I should have said not just marriage, but gay issues generally. They're surfacing under gay marriage now. We are now much more visible in many ways, and they're thinking we've got to be put back in our place.

Solomon: The marriage issue stirs people—both those among us who long for it, and among those who hate us and rail against it—not so much because of the benefits—

Loud and clear at the march on Washington in 1987
Loud and clear at the march on Washington in 1987

Kramer: That's why I want it. There are over 1,000 economic benefits the government passes out to married couples. I want 'em.

Solomon: —but more around the symbolic power of the state recognizing our relationships.

Kramer: I'm hoping that the symbolic stuff is beginning to fade. I think it's sentimental. I have nothing against that, but I don't think we should hold out for sentiment if we can get cold hard cash. I think we were on our way to getting the more easily obtainable civil union when the Massachusetts thing passed and marriage took its course. Then we had no choice but to fight for it, when a lot of us would have been happy to have the civil union. So when at the last minute Bush seemed to offer civil union, we weren't in a negotiating position to say, OK, we'll take that instead.

Solomon: With that possibility on the back burner, what do you make of HRC's willingness to consider supporting Bush's plans to privatize Social Security?

Kramer: Can you believe it? I can't see why people think Social Security needs to be repaired. Read Paul Krugman! Social Security is not broke. Why are they trying to fix it? It seems to be another Bush con to line the pockets of the rich.

Solomon: Yes. But isn't that exactly the problem? If HRC has a board of directors and an agenda that is being driven by people who give them a lot of money—which is to say the rich—why are we surprised when they support plans that line the pockets of the rich?

Kramer: I guess I'm naive enough to find it difficult to believe that this would be done at the expense of the rest of the gay population to such a degree. That's rabid right-wing philosophy.

Solomon: Indeed! I'd like to pursue that because, arguably, a certain kind of identity politics separates what's construed as "our interests" from a larger understanding of social and economic justice.

Kramer: What do you mean by "identity politics"? Fighting just for gay things?

"I have no idea why there hasn't been more civil disobedience, guerrilla tactics. ACT UP changed the world: The drugs are now out there because kids, most of whom are now dead, went out and put their bodies on the line and changed history. Why can't we continue to do it?"

Solomon: Yes. In your speech at Cooper Union, for example, you quoted some grim statistics from a talk by Bill Moyers about poverty in the U.S. and the ever widening income gap. I can imagine that HRC might say in response, "What's that got to do with us? That's not a gay issue."

Kramer: The people behind these policies are the same people who are crucifying us! If they're capable of that, they're certainly capable of destroying us, which they're attempting to do! Why do people like HRC separate it? HRC exists without any community oversight. They're not elected. We have no input into what they do. And they go and convince Congress that they represent the gay world.

Solomon: Why do we let them?

Kramer: Because, quite frankly, it's better than nothing. And nothing was what we had for so long. It's what every single speech I've ever made comes down to: Where are we? Where is everybody? Everyone is invisible. Even though so many of us are out of the closet, we're still invisible. Don't people know how to speak up?

Solomon: The whole culture has gone this way, hasn't it?

Kramer: The whole culture isn't being led to the gas chambers! And I use that analogy with full knowledge of what I'm saying. I really think they are out to completely eliminate us and to destroy us. It's becoming clearer and clearer. I finally got scientists and bureaucrats at the NIH to admit their intentionality in not doing anything about AIDS. Between 1981 and 1985, nothing was done. Every gay man who had sex without a condom got exposed. They knew it. That's hate. That's people who want to get rid of us. And we refuse to see that.

Solomon: People point to a lot of progress at the same time, to many gains on the AIDS front, for gay rights—they think you're crazy.

Kramer: I know. I'm always called crazy. And now it's "Larry's conspiracy theory."

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