Remarks on “Creating an AIDS-Free Generation” by Hillary Clinton


Remarks on “Creating an AIDS-Free Generation”

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
National Institutes of Health’s Masur Auditorium
Bethesda
November 8, 2011
(source with video)

Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you. And it is, for me, a distinct personal pleasure to be back here at NIH, a set of institutions that I admire so much and which are so critically important not only to our own country and to the future of science here but indeed around the world.
I want to begin by thanking Francis Collins for his leadership and for the work that he has done. I well remember those times talking about your research and the extraordinary excitement around it, Francis.

And I want to thank Tony for his kind words but also his leadership. It’s not easy to follow one of the top 20 federal employees of all time. (Laughter.) But I think Government Executive Magazine got it just right – a richly deserved recognition.

As I came in, I saw some other friends: Dr. Harold Varmus, with whom I’ve had the privilege to work both when he was here at NIH and then in New York; Dr. Nora Volkow and her work which is so important; and Dr. John Gallin as well.

But for me, this is a special treat because here in this room are some of America’s best scientists and most passionate advocates, true global health heroes and heroines, in an institution that is on the front lines of the fight against HIV/AIDS.

I want to recognize some special people who are here today: Ambassador Eric Goosby, our Global AIDS Coordinator, and his predecessor, Mark Dybul; Lois Quam, the executive director of our Global Health Initiative; Dr. Tom Frieden from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe; and others who are part of this Administration’s global health efforts and the multilateral organizations with which we work.

I also want to acknowledge two people who could not be with us: first, USAID Administrator Dr. Raj Shah, who has had such a positive impact on our health and development work; and, second, I am delighted to announce our new special envoy. We love special envoys at the State Department. (Laughter.) Our new Special Envoy for Global AIDS Awareness: Ellen DeGeneres. (Applause.) And Ellen is going to bring not only her sharp wit and her big heart, but her impressive TV audience and more than 8 million followers on Twitter, to raise awareness and support for this effort. I know we can look forward to many contributions from Ellen and her loyal fans across the globe.

Now, many of you know because you were there: The fight against AIDS began three decades ago in June 1981. American scientists reported the first evidence of a mysterious new disease. It was killing young men by leaving them vulnerable to rare forms of pneumonia, cancer, and other health problems. Now, at first, doctors knew virtually nothing about this disease. Today, all those years later, we know a great deal.

We know, of course, about its horrific impact. AIDS has killed 30 million people around the world, and 34 million are living with HIV today. In Sub-Saharan Africa—where 60 percent of the people with HIV are women and girls—it left a generation of children to grow up without mothers and fathers or teachers. In some communities, the only growth industry was the funeral business.

Thirty years later, we also know a great deal about the virus itself. We understand how it is spread, how it constantly mutates in the body, how it hides from the immune system. And we have turned this knowledge to our advantage—developing ingenious ways to prevent its transmission and dozens of drugs that keep millions of people alive. Now, AIDS is still an incurable disease, but it no longer has to be a death sentence.

Finally, after 30 years, we know a great deal about ourselves. The worst plague of our lifetime brought out the best in humanity. Around the world, governments, businesses, faith communities, activists, individuals from every walk of life have come together, giving their time, their money—along with their heads and hearts—to fight AIDS.

Although the past 30 years have been a remarkable journey, we still have a long, hard road ahead of us. But today, thanks both to new knowledge and to new ways of applying it, we have the chance to give countless lives and futures to millions of people who are alive today, but equally, if not profoundly more importantly, to an entire generation yet to be born.

Today, I would like to talk with you about how we arrived at this historic moment and what the world now can and must do to defeat AIDS.

From its earliest days, the fight against HIV/AIDS has been a global effort. But in the story of this fight, America’s name comes up time and again. In the past few weeks, I’ve spoken about various aspects of American leadership, from creating economic opportunity to preserving peace and standing up for democracy and freedom. Well, our efforts in global health are another strong pillar in our leadership. Our efforts advance our national interests. They help make other countries more stable and the United States more secure. And they are an expression of our values—of who we are as a people. And they generate enormous goodwill.

At a time when people are raising questions about America’s role in the world, our leadership in global health reminds them who we are and what we do, that we are the nation that has done more than any other country in history to save the lives of millions of people beyond our borders.

Our efforts must begin with the American public: from people living with the disease, to researchers in academic medical centers; to individual donors, businesses, and foundations; and philanthropies – two of my favorite ones, the Clinton Foundation – (laughter) – which helped make treatment more affordable by supporting innovative ways to manufacture and purchase drugs; the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which has underwritten breakthrough research.

But let’s remind ourselves no institution in the world has done more than the United States Government. (Applause.) We have produced a track record of excellence in science. Researchers right here at the NIH conducted pivotal research that identified HIV and proved that it did cause AIDS. The first drug to treat AIDS was supported by the United States. Today we are making major investments in the search for a vaccine; for tools like microbicides, which give women the power to protect themselves; and other lifesaving innovations.

Alongside our research and development work, the United States has led a global effort to bring these advances to bear in saving lives. When my husband was president, he appointed America’s first AIDS czar and more than tripled U.S. investments in preventing and treating AIDS worldwide. And in 2003, President Bush, with strong bipartisan support from Congress, made the momentous decision to launch the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR.

At that time, only 50,000 people in Sub-Saharan Africa were receiving the antiretroviral drugs that would keep them alive. Now, more than 5 million do, along with more than a million people in other regions of the world, and the vast majority receive drugs financed by either PEPFAR or the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, which the United States helped create.

And PEPFAR is having an impact far beyond AIDS. It has expanded on the World Health Organization’s efforts to treat and prevent tuberculosis, which is the leading cause of death among people with AIDS. PEPFAR has also helped build new facilities throughout our partner countries that see patients not just for HIV/AIDS, but for malaria, for immunizations, and much more. To staff these clinics, we have helped train a new cadre of professional health workers who are making their countries more self-sufficient. In some countries, the same trucks that deliver AIDS medicine now also deliver bed nets to prevent malaria.

For all these reasons, PEPFAR is one of the strong platforms upon which the Obama Administration is building our Global Health Initiative, which supports one-stop clinics offering an array of health services while driving down costs, driving up impact, and saving more lives. I say all of this because I want the American people to understand the irreplaceable role the United States has played in the fight against HIV/AIDS. It is their tax dollars, our tax dollars, that have made this possible, and we need to keep going.

To be sure, we have done it in an ever-expanding partnership with other governments, multilateral institutions, implementing organizations, the private sector, civil society groups, especially those led by people living with the virus. But the world could not have come this far without us, and it will not defeat AIDS without us.

What’s more, our efforts have helped set the stage for a historic opportunity, one that the world has today: to change the course of this pandemic and usher in an AIDS-free generation.

Now, by an AIDS-free generation, I mean one where, first, virtually no children are born with the virus; second, as these children become teenagers and adults, they are at far lower risk of becoming infected than they would be today thanks to a wide range of prevention tools; and third, if they do acquire HIV, they have access to treatment that helps prevent them from developing AIDS and passing the virus on to others.

Now, HIV may be with us well into the future. But the disease that it causes need not be. This is, I admit, an ambitious goal, and I recognize I am not the first person to envision it. But creating an AIDS-free generation has never been a policy priority for the United States Government until today, because this goal would have been unimaginable just a few years ago. Yet today, it is possible because of scientific advances largely funded by the United States and new practices put in place by this Administration and our many partners. Now while the finish line is not yet in sight, we know we can get there, because now we know the route we need to take. It requires all of us to put a variety of scientifically proven prevention tools to work in concert with each other. Just as doctors talk about combination treatment – prescribing more than one drug at a time – we all must step up our use of combination prevention.

America’s combination prevention strategy focuses on a set of interventions that have been proven most effective – ending mother-to-child transmission, expanding voluntary medical male circumcision, and scaling up treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS. Now of course, interventions like these can’t be successful in isolation. They work best when combined with condoms, counseling and testing, and other effective prevention interventions. And they rely on strong systems and personnel, including trained community health workers. They depend on institutional and social changes like ending stigma; reducing discrimination against women and girls; stopping gender-based violence and exploitation, which continue to put women and girls at higher risk of HIV infection; and repealing laws that make people criminals simply because of their sexual orientation.

Even as we recognize all these crucial elements, today I want to focus on the three key interventions that can make it possible to achieve an AIDS-free generation. First, preventing mother-to-child transmission. Today, one in seven new infections occurs when a mother passes the virus to her child. We can get that number to zero. I keep saying zero; my speechwriter keeps saying “Virtually zero.” (Laughter, applause.) And we can save mother’s lives too.

In June, I visited the Buguruni Health Center in Tanzania, and there I met a woman living with HIV who had recently given birth to a baby boy. She had been coming to the clinic throughout her pregnancy for medication and information because she desperately wanted her boy to get a healthy start in life, and most especially, she wanted him to be born HIV-free. When we met, she had just received the best news she could have hoped for. Her son did not have the virus. And thanks to the treatment she was getting there, she would live to see him grow up.

This is what American leadership and shared responsibility can accomplish for all mothers and children. The world already has the necessary tools and knowledge. Last year alone, PEPFAR helped prevent 114,000 babies from being born with HIV. Now, we have a way forward too. PEPFAR and UNAIDS have brought together key partners to launch a global plan for eliminating new infections among children by 2015. And we continue to integrate prevention and treatment efforts with broader health programs, which not only prevents HIV infections, but also keeps children healthy and helps mothers give birth safely.

In addition to preventing mother-to-child transmission, an effective combination prevention strategy has to include voluntary medical male circumcision. In the past few years, research has proven that this low-cost procedure reduces the risk of female-to-male transmission by more than 60 percent, and that the benefit is life-long.

Since 2007, some 1,000,000 men around the world have been circumcised for HIV prevention. Three fourths of these procedures have been funded by PEPFAR. In Kenya and Tanzania alone, during special campaigns, clinicians perform more than 35,000 circumcisions a month.

In the fight against AIDS, the ideal intervention is one that prevents people from being infected in the first place, and the two methods I’ve described – mother-to-child transmission, voluntary medical male circumcision – are the most cost-effective interventions we have, and we are scaling them up. But even once people do become HIV-positive, we can still make it far less likely that they will transmit the virus to others by treating them with the antiretroviral drugs. So this is the third element of combination prevention that I want to mention.

Thanks to U.S. Government-funded research published just a few months ago, we now know that if you treat a person living with HIV effectively, you reduce the risk of transmission to a partner by 96 percent.

Of course, not everyone takes the medication exactly as directed, and so some people may not get the maximum level of protection. But even so, this new finding will have a profound impact on the fight against AIDS.

For years, some have feared that scaling up treatment would detract from prevention efforts. Now we know beyond a doubt if we take a comprehensive view of our approach to the pandemic, treatment doesn’t take away from prevention. It adds to prevention. So let’s end the old debate over treatment versus prevention and embrace treatment as prevention.

There’s no question that scaling up treatment is expensive. But thanks to lower costs of drugs, bulk purchasing, and simple changes like shipping medication by ground instead of air, we and our partners are reducing the cost of treatment. In 2004, the cost to PEPFAR for providing ARVs and services to one patient averaged nearly $1,100 a year. Today, it’s $335 and falling. Continuing to drive down these costs is a challenge for all of us, from donors and developing countries to institutions like the Global Fund.

Treating HIV-positive people before they become ill also has indirect economic benefits. It allows them to work, to support their families, contribute to their communities. It averts social costs, such as caring for orphans whose parents die of AIDS-related illnesses. A study published just last month weighed the costs and benefits and found that – I quote – “the economic benefits of treatment will substantially offset, and likely exceed, program costs within 10 years of investment.” In other words, treating people will not only save lives, it will generate considerable economic returns as well.

Now, some people have concerns about treatment as prevention. They argue that many people transmit the virus to others shortly after they have acquired it themselves, but before they have begun treatment. That is a legitimate concern, and we are studying ways to identify people sooner after transmission and help them avoid spreading the virus further. But to make a big dent in this pandemic, we don’t need to be able to identify and treat everyone as soon as they are HIV-positive. In places where the pandemic is well established, as it is in most of Sub-Saharan African countries, most transmissions come not from people who are newly infected, but from people with longstanding HIV infections who need treatment now or soon will. We already have the tests we need to identify these people. If they receive and maintain their treatment, their health will improve dramatically, and they will be far less likely to transmit the virus to their partners.

Now let me be clear: None of the interventions I’ve described can create an AIDS-free generation by itself. But used in combination with each other and with other powerful prevention methods, they do present an extraordinary opportunity. Right now, more people are becoming infected every year than are starting treatment. We can reverse this trend. Mathematical models show that scaling up combination prevention to realistic levels in high-prevalence countries would drive down the worldwide rate of new infections by at least 40 to 60 percent. That’s on top of the 25 percent drop we’ve already seen in the past decade.

As the world scales up the most effective prevention methods, the number of new infections will go down, and it will be possible to treat more people than are becoming infected each year. And so, instead of falling behind year after year, we will, for the first time, get ahead of the pandemic. We will be on the path to an AIDS-free generation. That is the real power of combination prevention.

But success is not inevitable, nor will it be easy. Coverage levels for many of these interventions are unacceptably low. And we know from experience that to scale them up, we have to be able to deliver them not just in hospitals, but in clinics located in communities of every size and shape. If we’re going to make the most of this moment, there are steps we must take together.

First, we need to let science guide our efforts. Success depends on deploying our tools based on the best available evidence. Now, I know that occasionally it feels in and around Washington that there are some who wish us to live in an evidence-free zone. (Laughter.) But it’s imperative – (applause) – that we stand up for evidence and for science. Facts are stubborn things, and we need to keep putting them out there, even though they might, in the short term, be dismissed. Eventually, we will prevail.

Through PEPFAR and across the government, the United States is using scientifically proven results to inform our policy, which leads to real change for programs on the ground and maximizes the impact of our investments. For example, we need more research to identify the most effective ways to combine these interventions in different contexts. We know HIV is a complex pandemic that varies from country to country, district to district, from urban areas to rural. It’s the same in our own country. Combination prevention needs to reflect this complexity. Which combinations are most effective in areas where the virus is concentrated in especially vulnerable populations? What about places where it is more widespread in the general population?

We’re already working to answer these questions. We recently granted more than $50 million to three of the world’s leading academic institutions to develop rigorous studies that test what works in various settings. Today, I’m pleased to announce that we’re stepping up our efforts. The United States, through PEPFAR, will commit an additional $60 million to rapidly scale up combination prevention in parts of four countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and to rigorously measure the impact.

The results will have implications for every country where we work and for our partners as well. They will help ensure that we are translating the science into services that deliver the most impact and will allow us to take bigger steps together in our march toward an AIDS-free generation. I want to challenge other donors to join us in this effort. Go out and find partner countries that will work with you to test the most effective combinations of tools. Scale up support for treating as many people as possible. Measure the impact and share the results, so we can all learn from each other.

The second step is to put more emphasis on country ownership of HIV/AIDS programs. This is a priority for the United States. We know we can’t create an AIDS-free generation by dictating solutions from Washington. Our in-country partners – including governments, NGOs, and faith-based organizations – need to own and lead their nation’s response. So we are working with ministries of health and local organizations to strengthen their health systems so they can take on an even broader range of health problems.

Country ownership also means that more partner countries need to share more responsibility for funding the fight against HIV/AIDS within their borders. Some countries have allowed money from outside donors to displace their own investments in health programs; well, if PEPFAR or the Global Fund or another donor is going to be giving us money for health, we can just take that money out of health and build some more roads. That has to change and we have to demand that it change. More countries need to follow the lead of South Africa, Nigeria, Senegal, Rwanda, Zambia, and others that are committing larger shares of their own budgets to HIV/AIDS.

Finally, we’re calling on other donor nations to do their part, including by supporting and strengthening the Global Fund. Consider just one example of what the Global Fund has already done. In 2004, virtually none of the people in Malawi who were eligible to receive treatment actually received it. As of last year, with significant help from the Global Fund, nearly half did.

This kind of progress deserves our support. The United States is the largest individual contributor to the Fund, and the Obama Administration has made our country’s first multiyear pledge to it. Some donors are, unfortunately, considering reducing their contributions. Some emerging powers and nations that are rich in natural resources can afford to give, but choose not to. To sit on the sidelines now would be devastating. It would cost lives, and we would miss out on this unprecedented opportunity. When so many people are suffering, and we have the means to help them, we have an obligation to do what we can.

And for its part, the Global Fund has its own responsibilities to meet. The United States has supported reforms at the Fund to ensure that its resources are reaching those in need and that they are focused on cost-effective, evidence-based solutions. The Fund is conducting a number of audits and investigations that have surfaced reports of fraud and corruption. It is the Fund’s responsibility to root out these abuses and end them as quickly as possible.

But let’s remember, uncovering problems is exactly what transparency is supposed to do. It means the process is working. So let’s not put the Global Fund into some kind of catch-22. Go be transparent, go be accountable, and when you find problems, we’re going to take money away from you. Now, from day one, the United States Congress has insisted that our contributions to the Global Fund support accountable programs that produce measurable outcomes. And it’s been my experience that the American people are happy to support lifesaving programs if they know they really work. And this is how we show them.

The goal of an AIDS-free generation may be ambitious, but it is possible with the knowledge and interventions we have right now. And that is something we’ve never been able to say without qualification before. Imagine what the world will look like when we succeed. Imagine AIDS wards that once were stretched far beyond their capacity becoming outpatient clinics caring for people with a manageable condition, children who might have been orphaned and then trafficked or recruited as child soldiers instead growing up with the hope of a better future, communities where despair once reigned filled instead with optimism, countries that can make the most of every single person’s God-given potential. That is the world that has always been at the core of American belief, and we have worked toward it in our own history. It’s the world I think we all would like to live in. An AIDS-free generation would be one of the greatest gifts the United States could give to our collective future.

Much of what we do will depend upon the people in this room and the hundreds and thousands like you – the researchers and scientists, the public health docs and nurses and other personnel, the community health workers, the funders and donors, the government officials, the business leaders, philanthropies, and faith communities that have all joined together in this quite remarkable way to combat this disease.

So I end where I started. We’ve made a lot of progress together in the last 30 years. It hasn’t been easy. It hasn’t been without controversy. But it has been steady, and we have stayed the course as a nation. In these difficult budget times, we have to remember that investing in our future is the smartest investment we can make. And generations of American policymakers and taxpayers have supported the NIH, medical research, scientific work, not because we thought everything was going to produce an immediate result but because we believe that through these investments, human progress would steadily, steadily continue.

Let’s not stop now. Let’s keep focused on the future. And one of those futures that I hope we can be part of achieving is an AIDS-free generation. Thank you all very much. (Applause.)

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Why We Fight


by Vito Russo of ACT UP
ACT UP “9 Days of Protest” Demonstration
Albany, NY,
May 9, 1988
Also delivered at the ACT UP Demonstration at the Department of Health and Human Services, Washington D.C. October 10, 1988
(source, includes video)

VITO RUSSO: A friend of mine in New York City has a half-fare transit card, which means that you get on buses and subways for half price. And the other day, when he showed his card to the token attendant, the attendant asked what his disability was and he said, I have AIDS. And the attendant said, no you don’t, if you had AIDS, you’d be home dying. And so, I wanted to speak out today as a person with AIDS who is not dying.

You know, for the last three years, since I was diagnosed, my family thinks two things about my situation. One, they think I’m going to die, and two, they think that my government is doing absolutely everything in their power to stop that. And they’re wrong, on both counts.

So, if I’m dying from anything, I’m dying from homophobia. If I’m dying from anything, I’m dying from racism. If I’m dying from anything, it’s from indifference and red tape, because these are the things that are preventing an end to this crisis. If I’m dying from anything, I’m dying from Jesse Helms. If I’m dying from anything, I’m dying from the President of the United States. And, especially, if I’m dying from anything, I’m dying from the sensationalism of newspapers and magazines and television shows, which are interested in me, as a human interest story — only as long as I’m willing to be a helpless victim, but not if I’m fighting for my life.

If I’m dying from anything — I’m dying from the fact that not enough rich, white, heterosexual men have gotten AIDS for anybody to give a shit. You know, living with AIDS in this country is like living in the twilight zone. Living with AIDS is like living through a war which is happening only for those people who happen to be in the trenches. Every time a shell explodes, you look around and you discover that you’ve lost more of your friends, but nobody else notices. It isn’t happening to them. They’re walking the streets as though we weren’t living through some sort of nightmare. And only you can hear the screams of the people who are dying and their cries for help. No one else seems to be noticing.

And it’s worse than a war, because during a war people are united in a shared experience. This war has not united us, it’s divided us. It’s separated those of us with AIDS and those of us who fight for people with AIDS from the rest of the population.

Two and a half years ago, I picked up Life Magazine, and I read an editorial which said, “it’s time to pay attention, because this disease is now beginning to strike the rest of us.” It was as if I wasn’t the one holding the magazine in my hand. And since then, nothing has changed to alter the perception that AIDS is not happening to the real people in this country.

It’s not happening to us in the United States, it’s happening to them — to the disposable populations of fags and junkies who deserve what they get. The media tells them that they don’t have to care, because the people who really matter are not in danger. Twice, three times, four times — The New York Times has published editorials saying, don’t panic yet, over AIDS — it still hasn’t entered the general population, and until it does, we don’t have to give a shit.

And the days, and the months, and the years pass by, and they don’t spend those days and nights and months and years trying to figure out how to get hold of the latest experimental drug, and which dose to take it at, and in what combination with other drugs, and from what source? And, how are you going to pay for it? And where are you going to get it? Because it isn’t happening to them, so they don’t give a shit.

And they don’t sit in television studios, surrounded by technicians who are wearing rubber gloves, who won’t put a microphone on you, because it isn’t happening to them, so they don’t give a shit. And they don’t have their houses burned down by bigots and morons. They watch it on the news and they have dinner and they go to bed, because it isn’t happening to them, and they don’t give a shit.

And they don’t spend their waking hours going from hospital room to hospital room, and watching the people that they love die slowly — of neglect and bigotry, because it isn’t happening to them and they don’t have to give a shit. They haven’t been to two funerals a week for the last three or four or five years — so they don’t give a shit, because it’s not happening to them.

And we read on the front page of The New York Times last Saturday that Anthony Fauci now says that all sorts of promising drugs for treatment haven’t even been tested in the last two years because he can’t afford to hire the people to test them. We’re supposed to be grateful that this story has appeared in the newspaper after two years. Nobody wonders why some reporter didn’t dig up that story and print it 18 months ago, before Fauci got dragged before a Congressional hearing .

How many people are dead in the last two years, who might be alive today, if those drugs had been tested more quickly? Reporters all over the country are busy printing government press releases. They don’t give a shit, it isn’t happening to them — meaning that it isn’t happening to people like them — the real people, the world-famous general public we all keep hearing about.

Legionnaire’s Disease was happening to them because it hit people who looked like them, who sounded like them, who were the same color as them. And that fucking story about a couple of dozen people hit the front page of every newspaper and magazine in this country, and it stayed there until that mystery got solved.

All I read in the newspapers tells me that the mainstream, white heterosexual population is not at risk for this disease. All the newspapers I read tell me that IV drug users and homosexuals still account for the overwhelming majority of cases, and a majority of those people at risk.

And can somebody please tell me why every single penny allocated for education and prevention gets spent on ad campaigns that are directed almost exclusively to white, heterosexual teenagers — who they keep telling us are not at risk!

Can somebody tell me why the only television movie ever produced by a major network in this country, about the impact of this disease, is not about the impact of this disease on the man who has AIDS, but of the impact of AIDS on his white, straight, nuclear family? Why, for eight years, every newspaper and magazine in this country has done cover stories on AIDS only when the threat of heterosexual transmission is raised?

Why, for eight years, every single educational film designed for use in high schools has eliminated any gay positive material, before being approved by the Board of Education? Why, for eight years, every single public information pamphlet and videotape distributed by establishment sources has ignored specific homosexual content?

Why is every bus and subway ad I read and every advertisement and every billboard I see in this country specifically not directed at gay men? Don’t believe the lie that the gay community has done its job and done it well and educated its people. The gay community and IV drug users are not all politicized people living in New York and San Francisco. Members of minority populations, including so called sophisticated gay men are abysmally ignorant about AIDS.

If it is true that gay men and IV drug users are the populations at risk for this disease, then we have a right to demand that education and prevention be targeted specifically to these people. And it is not happening. We are being allowed to die, while low risk populations are being panicked — not educated, panicked — into believing that we deserve to die.

Why are we here together today? We’re here because it is happening to us, and we do give a shit. And if there were more of us AIDS wouldn’t be what it is at this moment in history. It’s more than just a disease, which ignorant people have turned into an excuse to exercise the bigotry they have always felt.

It is more than a horror story, exploited by the tabloids. AIDS is really a test of us, as a people. When future generations ask what we did in this crisis, we’re going to have to tell them that we were out here today. And we have to leave the legacy to those generations of people who will come after us.

Someday, the AIDS crisis will be over. Remember that. And when that day comes — when that day has come and gone, there’ll be people alive on this earth — gay people and straight people, men and women, black and white, who will hear the story that once there was a terrible disease in this country and all over the world, and that a brave group of people stood up and fought and, in some cases, gave their lives, so that other people might live and be free.

So, I’m proud to be with my friends today and the people I love, because I think you’re all heroes, and I’m glad to be part of this fight. But, to borrow a phrase from Michael Callen’s song: all we have is love right now, what we don’t have is time.

In a lot of ways, AIDS activists are like those doctors out there — they’re so busy putting out fires and taking care of people on respirators, that they don’t have the time to take care of all the sick people. We’re so busy putting out fires right now, that we don’t have the time to talk to each other and strategize and plan for the next wave, and the next day, and next month and the next week and the next year.

And, we’re going to have to find the time to do that in the next few months. And, we have to commit ourselves to doing that. And then, after we kick the shit out of this disease, we’re all going to be alive to kick the shit out of this system, so that this never happens again.

VITO RUSSO

We Are not Crumbs; We Must Not Accept Crumbs


by Larry Kramer
Remarks on the occasion of the 20th Anniversary of ACT UP
NY Lesbian and Gay Community Center
March 13, 9007

Rodger McFarlane, Eric Sawyer, Jim Eigo, Peter Staley, Troy Masters, Mark Harrington, David Webster, Jeremy Waldron, and Hannah Arendt contributed to the following remarks.

One day AIDS came along. It happened fast. Almost every man I was friendly with died. Eric still talks about his first boyfriend, 180 pounds, 28 years old, former college athlete, who became a 119 pound bag of bones covered in purple splotches in months. Many of us will always have memories like this that we can never escape.

Out of this came ACT UP. We grew to have chapters and affinity groups and spin-offs and affiliations all over the world. Hundreds of men and women once met weekly in New York City alone. Every single treatment against HIV is out there because of activists who forced these drugs out of the system, out of the labs, out of the pharmaceutical companies, out of the government, into the world. It is an achievement unlike any other in the history of the world. All gay men and women must let ourselves feel colossally proud of such an achievement. Hundreds of millions of people will be healthier because of us. Would that they could be grateful to us for saving their lives.

So many people have forgotten, or never knew what it was like. We must never let anyone forget that no one, and I mean no one, wanted to help dying faggots. Sen. Edward Kennedy described it in 2006 as “the appalling indifference to the suffering of so many.” Ronald Reagan had made it very clear that he was “irrevocably opposed” to anything to do with homosexuality. It would be seven years into his reign before he even said the word “AIDS” out loud, by which time almost every gay man in the entire world who’d had sex with another man had been exposed to the virus. During this entire time his government issued not one single health warning, not one single word of caution. Who cares if a faggot dies. I believe that Ronald Reagan is responsible for more deaths than Adolf Hitler. This is not hyperbole. This is fact.

These are just a few of the things ACT UP did to make the world pay attention: We invaded the offices of drug companies and scientific laboratories and chained ourselves to the desks of those in charge. We chained ourselves to the trucks trying to deliver a drug company’s products. We liberally poured buckets of fake blood in public places. We closed the tunnels and bridges of New York and San Francisco. Our Catholic kids stormed St. Patrick’s at Sunday Mass and spit out Cardinal O’Connor’s host. We tossed the ashes from dead bodies from their urns on to the White House lawn. We draped a gigantic condom over Jesse Helms’ house. We infiltrated the floor of the New York Stock Exchange for the first time in its history so we could confetti the place with flyers urging the brokers to “SELL WELLCOME.” We boarded ourselves up inside Burroughs-Wellcome, (now named GlaxoSmithKline), which owns AZT, in Research Triangle so they had to blast us out. We had regular demonstrations, Die-Ins we called them, at the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health, at City Halls, at the White House, in the halls of Congress, at government buildings everywhere, starting with our first demonstration on Wall Street, where crowds of us lay flat on the ground with our arms crossed over our chests or holding cardboard tombstones until the cops had to cart us away by the vans-full. We had massive demonstrations at the FDA and the NIH. There was no important meeting anywhere that we did not invade, interrupt, and infiltrate. We threatened Bristol-Myers that if they did not distribute it immediately we would manufacture it ourselves and distribute a promising drug some San Francisco activists had stolen from its Canadian factory and had duplicated. (The drug, now known as Videx, was released. Ironically Videx was discovered at Yale, where I went to school and with whom I am still engaged in annoyingly delicious activist battles to shape them up; they too are a stubborn lot.) We utterly destroyed a Hoffmann-LaRoche luncheon when they delayed a decent drug’s release. And always, we went after the New York Times for their shockingly, tragically, inept reporting of this plague. We plastered this city with tens of thousands of stickers reading, “Gina Kolata of the New York Times is the worst AIDS reporter in America.” We picketed the Fifth Avenue home of the publisher of the Times, one Arthur Sulzberger. We picketed everywhere. You name a gross impediment and we picketed there, from our historic 24-hour round the clock for seven days and nights picket of Sloan Kettering to another hateful murderer, our closeted mayor, Edward I. Koch. 3000 of us picketed that monster at City Hall. And, always we protested against our ignoble presidents: Reagan. We actually booed him at a huge AmFAR benefit in Washington. He was not amused. And Bush. 2500 of us actually tracked him down at his vacation home in Kennebunkport, Maine, which did not know what had hit it. And Clinton. I cannot tell you what a disappointment he was for us. He was such a bullshitter, as I fear his wife to be. And Bush again. The newest and most evil emperor in the fullest most repellant plumage. We can no longer summon those kinds of numbers to go after him.
A lot of us got arrested a lot of times. A lot of us. A lot of us. We kept our lawyer members busy. It actually was a wonderful feeling being locked up behind bars in cells with the brothers and sisters you have fought with side by side for what you fervently believe is right.

Slowly we were noticed and even more slowly we were listened to.

Along this journey some of our members taught themselves so much about our illness and the science of it and the politics of it and the bureaucracy of it that we soon knew more than anyone else did. We got ourselves into meetings with drug company scientists who could not believe our people weren’t doctors. I took a group to a meeting with Dr. Anthony Fauci, whom I had called our chief murderer in publications across the land. Dr. Fauci was and still is the government’s chief AIDS person, the Director of Infectious Diseases at NIH. We were able to show him how inferior all his plans and ideas under consideration were compared to the ones that we had figured out in minute detail. We told him what they should be doing and were not doing. We showed him how he and all his staff of doctors and scientists and researchers and statisticians did not understand this patient population and that we did. By then we had located our own doctors and scientists and researchers and statisticians to talk to, some of them even joining us. When our ideas were tried, they worked. We were consistently right. Our “chief murderer” Dr. Fauci became our hero when he opened the doors at NIH and let us in, an historic moment and an historic gesture. Soon we were on the very committees we had picketed, and soon we were making the most important decisions for treating our own bodies. We redesigned the whole system of clinical trials that is in use to this day for every major illness. And of course, we got those drugs out. And the FDA approval for a new drug that once took an average of 7-12 years can now be had in less than one. ACT UP did all this. My children—you must forgive me for coming to think of them as that—most of whom are dead. You must have some idea what it is like when your children die. Most of them did not live to enjoy the benefits of their courage. They were courageous because they knew they might die. They could and were willing to fight because they felt they soon would die and there was nothing to lose, and maybe everything to gain.
And of course funeral after funeral after funeral. We made funerals into an art form, too, just as our demonstrations, our street theater, our graphics, many of which are now in museums and art galleries, were all art forms as well. God, we were so creative as we were dying.

It is important to celebrate. But it is hard to do so when so many of us aren’t here. At least that is the way for me. I know we are twenty years old. It seems impossible to me that it has been so many years. I remember much of it as if it were yesterday. It is difficult to celebrate when one has such potent, painful tragic memories. We held so many of each other in our arms. One never forgets love like that. Make no mistake, AIDS was and is a terrible tragedy that need not have escalated into a worldwide plague. There were 41 cases when I started. There are some 75 million now. It takes a lot of help from a lot of enemies to rack up a tally like that.

Rodger McFarlane made this list of ACT UP’s achievements: accelerated approval of investigational new drugs; expanded compassionate use of experimental drugs and new applications of existing drugs; mathematical alternatives to the deadly double-blind-placebo-controlled studies of old; rigorous statistical methods for community-based research models; accelerated and expanded research in basic immunology, virology, and pharmacology; public exposure of and procedural remedies to sweetheart practices between the NIH and FDA on one hand and pharmaceutical companies on the other (now, with our own decline, unfortunately out of control again); institutionalized consumer oversight and political scrutiny of FDA approvals for all drug classes and for vast NIH appropriations for research in every disease; state drug assistance programs; and vastly expanded consumer oversight of insurance and Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement formularies. Each of these reforms profoundly benefits the health and survival of hundreds of millions of people far, far beyond AIDS and will do so for generations to come.

To this I might add that out of ACT UP came Needle Exchange and Housing Works and AID for AIDS and The AIDS Treatment Data Network and the Global AIDS Action Committee and HealthGAP and TAG, too, the Treatment Action Group.

Perhaps you did not know we did all this. As we know, historians do not include gay anything in their histories. Gays are never included in the history of anything.

Dr. Fauci now tells the world that modern medicine can be divided into two periods. Before us and after us. “ACT UP put medicine back in the hands of the patients, which is where it belongs,” he said to the New Yorker.

How could a population of gay people, call us the survivors, or the descendents, of those who did all this, be so relatively useless now? Maybe useless is too harsh. Ineffectual. Invisible. No, useless is not too harsh. Oh let us just call ourselves underutilized. As long as I live I will never figure this out.

Then, we only had the present. We were freed of the responsibility of thinking of the future. So we were able to act up. Now we only have our future. Imagine thinking that way. Those who had no future now only have a future. That includes not only everyone in this room but gay people everywhere. We are back to worrying about what “they” think about us. It seems we are not so free, most of us, to act up now. Our fear had been turned into energy. We were able to cry out fuck you fuck you fuck you. Troy Masters, the publisher of LGNY, wrote to me: ACT UP recognized evil and confronted it loudly.

Yes, we confronted evil. For a while.

We don’t say fuck you, fuck you, fuck you anymore. At least so anyone can hear.

Well the evil things that made me angry then still make me angry now. I keep asking around, doesn’t anything make you angry, too? Doesn’t anything make anyone angry? Or are we back in 1981, surrounded and suffocated by people as uninterested in saving their lives as so many of us were in 1981. I made a speech and wrote a little book called The Tragedy of Today’s Gays about all this. That was about two years ago. Lots of applause. Lots of thanks. No action.

There was a Danish study a few weeks ago. The life expectancy after infection by HIV is now thirty-five years. Thirty five years. Can you imagine that? That is because of ACT UP. A bunch of kids who learned how to launch street actions and release a propaganda machine and manipulate media masterfully, and use naked coercion, occasional litigations, and adept behind-the-scenes maneuverings that led to sweeping institutional changes with vast ramifications. We drove the creation of hundreds of AIDS service organizations across the country, leveraging hundreds of millions of dollars a year and fielding tens of thousands of volunteers, all the while amassing a huge body of clinical expertise and moral authority unprecedented among any group of patients and advocates in medical history.

We did all this. And we got all those drugs. The NIH didn’t get all those drugs. The FDA didn’t get all those drugs. We got all those drugs. And we rammed them down their fucking throats until they approved them and released them.

It was very useful, old ACT UP.

It is no longer useful. The old ACT UP is no longer useful enough. There are not enough of us. Few people go to meetings. Our chapters have evaporated. Our voice has dimmed in its volume and its luster. Our protests are no longer heard.

We must be heard! We must be.

We are not crumbs! We should not accept crumbs! We must not accept crumbs! There is not one single candidate running for public office anywhere that deserves our support. Not one. Every day they vote against us in increasingly brutal fashion. I will not vote for a one of them and neither should you. To vote for any one of them, to lend any one of them your support, is to collude with them in their utter disdain for us. And we must let every single one of them know that we will not support them. Perhaps it will win them more votes, that faggots won’t support them, but at least we will have our self-respect. And, I predict, the respect of many others who have long wondered why we allow ourselves to be treated so brutally year after year after year, as they take away our manhood, our womanhood, our personhood. There is not one single one of them, candidate or major public figure, that, given half a chance, would not sell us down the river. We have seen this time after time, from Bill Clinton with his Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and his full support of the hideous Defense of Marriage Act (talk about selling us down the river), to Hillary with her unacceptable waffling on all our positions. The woman does not know how to make simple declarative statements that involve definite details. (Read David Mixner on Hillary and Bill. It’s scary. Go to his site: DMixner@AOL.com). To Ann Coulter calling people faggots and queers and getting away with it. As Andrew Sullivan responded to her: “The emasculation of men in minority groups is an ancient trope of the vilest bigotry!” To this very morning’s statement to the world by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, that he believes the 65,000 lesbian and gay troops fighting right this very minute for our country are immoral. That our country’s top soldier can say something like this out loud and get away with it is disgusting.

If I am going after Hillary and Bill Clinton it is because I think she just might win, or should I say they might win. Two for the price of one will prove irresistible. Thus it is important to go after the Clintons now, while it still might be possible to negotiate their acceptance and support of our concerns, nay our demands, instead of climbing on their bandwagon that is akin to a juggernaut smashing all in their way as David Mixner describes. Too many gay and lesbians and our organizations are giving her fundraisers and kissing her ass too unreservedly and way way too early. As for Bill, yes, he is at last doing great work for AIDS in Africa but it sure would be nice if we had his generics in America for all those who fall through the cracks of the Ryan White Drug Assistance Program. Have you noticed how fashionable it is for foundations and the two Bills, Gates and Clinton, to do AIDS good deeds in Africa and obviously much too unfashionable to do them in America? I don’t like this woman, but I could, if she wasn’t cockteasing us just like her husband did.

We are not crumbs! We must not accept crumbs!

The CDC says some 300,000 men who had sex with men have died during the past 20 years. If I knew at last 500 of them, I know this CDC figure is a lie. Just as I know the CDC figure of gay people as only several percentage points of the population is a lie, instead of the at least some 20% of the population that the Williams Institute at UCLA Law School calculates it is possible to maintain. Who says that intentional genocide of “us” by “them” isn’t going on? They don’t want us here. When are we going to face up to this?

We are discriminated against at every turn. As we prepare to die the older among us will be taxed beyond belief. That prevents us leaving our estates to our lovers or to gay charities. God forbid the latter should happen, that gays with any money should endow gay organizations with all their gay riches. Do you think I am being too elitist in this concern? Well, you are using this gay and lesbian community center now. How do you think it supports itself? Taxation without representation is what led to our Revolutionary War. Well, way over two hundred years later gay people still have no equality. Gays are equal to nothing good or acceptable in this country. It is criminal how they treat us. We get further and further from progress and equality with each passing year. George Bush will leave a legacy of hate that will take who knows how many eons to cleanse away. He has packed every court in the land with a conservative judge who serves for life. He has staffed every single government job from high to low with a conservative inhabitant who, under the laws of Civil Service, cannot be removed. So even with the most tolerant of new Presidents we will be unable to break free from this yoke of hate for as long as most of us will live. Congresspersons now call judges to pressure them, which is illegal, and if the President doesn’t like a judge’s record, he fires them, which is also illegal. The Supreme Court is not going to give us our equality in any foreseeable future, and it is from the Supreme Court that it must come. They are the law of this land that will not make us equal. If that is not hate, if what I am talking about does not represent hate, I do not know what hate is. We are crumbs to them, if even that.

This is not just about gay marriage. Political candidates only talk about gay marriage, making nicey-nice maybes. But they are not talking about gay equality. And we are not demanding that they talk about the kind of equality I am talking about, marriage or no marriage. Gay marriage is a useful red herring for them to pretend they are talking about gays when they are not. For some reason our movement has confined its feeble demands to marriage. Well, my lover and I don’t want to get married just yet but we sure want to be equal.

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? Some seventy million cases of HIV were all brewed in a cauldron of hate.

Mark Harrington said to me last week that one of the great things about ACT UP was that it made us proud to be gay. Our activism came out of love. Our activism came out of our love for each other as we tried to take care of each other, and to keep each other alive.

No one is looking out for us anymore the way ACT UP looked out for us once upon a time.

ACT UP is not saving us now. This is not meant as finger-pointing or blame. It just is. No one goes to meetings and our chapters all over the globe have almost disappeared. And we must recognize this, I beg of you.

I don’t want to start another organization. And yet I know we must start another organization. Or at the very least administer major shock therapy to this one.

And I know that if we do go down a new road, we must do it right and just accept this fact that the old ACT UP we knew is no longer useful enough to the needs that we have now and move on to reparative therapy.

I also know that any organization that we start now must be an army. You have resisted this word in the past. Perhaps now that the man in charge of America’s army is calling you immoral you won’t resist it army anymore. We must field an organized army with elected leaders and a chain of command. It must be a gay army with gay leaders fighting for gay people under a gay flag, in gay battle formations against our common enemies, uncontaminated by any fear of offending or by any sense that this might not be the time to say what we really need to say. We must cease our never-ending docile cooperation with a status quo that never changes in its relationship to us. We are cutting our own throats raising money for Hillary or Obama or Kerry or, God forbid, Giuliani, or anyone until they come out in full support of all the things I am talking about, not just some tepid maybe-maybes about second-class partnership pieces of worthless paper. Immigration. Taxation without representation. Safety. Why aren’t they all supporting Hate Crimes bills that include us? Twenty-thousand Christian youths now make an annual pilgrimage to San Francisco to pray for gay souls. I am sorry but this is not free speech. This is another version of hate. If any organization sent 20,000 Christian youths to pray for Jewish souls they would lose their tax-exempt status, or they would have before George Bush. Do we protest? It is very wearying to witness our carrying on so passively year after year, particularly now that all of us—and I mean all of us—have been given the gift of staying alive. I know that young gays don’t think this way, but many of us died to give you this gift of staying alive. You are alive because of us. I wish you would see this. And we all owe it to the dead as well as to ourselves to continue a fight that we have stopped fighting.

We do not seem to realize that the more we become visible, the more that more and more of us come out of the closet, the more vulnerable we become to the more and more increasingly visible hate against us. In other words, the more they see us, the more they hate us. The more new gays they see, the more new ways they find to hate us. We do not seem to realize that the more we urge each other to come out—which indeed we must never stop doing—the more we must protect ourselves for and from our exits from our closet on to the stage of the world that hates us more and more. I don’t think we realize this and we must. We must.

Why do I think we need the word “army”? Because it connotes strength and discipline, which we desperately need to convey. Because it scares people, and God knows nobody is all that scared of us. Which they were for a while. The drug companies were afraid of us. The NIH and FDA were afraid of us. Closeted everybodies were afraid of us. No more. Our days of being democratic to a flaw at those endless meetings must cease. It has been a painful lesson to learn but democracy does not protect us. Unity does. United commitment to confront our many foes.

We never consider the establishment of a gay army, just as in the approach of the Holocaust the Jews did not consider one, even though urged, no begged, no implored to do so by their great philosopher, Hannah Arendt, who had the tragic misfortune to see what was coming and to not have her warnings heeded or even believed. Why only last week Mr. Obama implored his people, albeit with a certain timidity: “Put on your marching shoes! Go do some politics! Change this country!” If all the blacks in this country did all that, he would not only win but they would have the power they never have.

What we refuse to see is what is going on around us, believing it is happening to others but not believing that it can happen to us: the use and defense of torture, concentrations of prisoners regarded as threats to America in camps where they languish indefinitely beyond the reach of law; hidden “duplicate” governments existing under the auspices of the homeland security state, shadowing the constitutional government but secret and free of legal constraint.” (Waldron). You don’t think any of this can happen to you. I do. You don’t think that any of those “political” prisoners shipped off to camps are gay? You’re wrong. Much of the Episcopalian church is now aligning itself with Nigeria. Homosexuality is a punishable crime in Nigeria, in Ghana, in Iran, in Saudi Arabia, in a hundred different countires, as is any activism on behalf of it. Punishable means prison. Punishable means death. The Nigerian head archbishop of the Episcopalian church believes we should be put in prison. Episcopalians! Whoever thought we’d have to worry about Episcopalians. Well, whoever thought we’d have to worry about Wyoming. Matthew Shepard was murdered in Wyoming.

When will we acknowledge that we are constantly being lied to? We must have fiercely observant eyes. We must understand and confront the unprecedented, with “attentive facing up to, and resistance of, reality—whatever that might be.”(Arendt) Intelligent people—and gays are certainly that—have proved more than once that we are less capable of judging for ourselves than almost any other social group. When a conservative columnist can get away with calling presidential candidates “a faggot” and “a queer,” without any serious reprisals, than why can’t we see that we are in trouble? When the New York Times does not run an obituary on quite possibly the most famous lesbian in modern times, Barbara Gittings, than we are in trouble. When I can’t get US News and World Report to publish a letter about an insidiously homophobic cover story they wrote on Jamestown, we’re in trouble. When our country’s top military officer can call us immoral, we’re in trouble.

No, ACT UP is not saving us now. No one is saving us now.

We all think we have straight friends. We think if we have straight friends then everything is OK. But these friends are not protesting with us. They aren’t fighting with us. They enjoy the freedoms they have with their marriages and all their fringe benefits. Yes, they like us but are they going to sacrifice any of their freedoms to get us ours? Of course not. And what’s more we should not expect them to. Even though it sure would be nice; we’ve fought for them and theirs often enough.

The old ACT UP model served us well but it is time to take the next step. I am not saying that there are not more fights to be had for AIDS. There are and we must continue to fight them. Infections are up again. Prevention efforts are not good enough. It is still illegal for HIV foreigners to enter America. But these issues no longer appear to excite sufficient participation. Few people come to meetings and our chapters have disappeared. Many of us have tried to figure out what happened to us and why we ceased to be what we were. We all have thoughts about what happened but as I said I think its time to stop trying to figure it out and just move on. Expanding our demands will hopefully not silence our past concerns but invite increased numbers to meld these newer concerns I am talking about into a stronger, total mix.

ACT UP requires a new model to do this. A new model that will allow for different kinds of actions, tactics and issues, not just HIV. I am not asking you if you even want another organization. I am hoping that you are smart enough to realize—eureka!—that the great deeds we once accomplished which changed history can be accomplished again. For we are still facing the same danger, our extermination, and from the same enemy, our own country, our own country’s “democratic process.” Day after day our country declares that we are not equal to anything at all. All the lives we saved are nothing but crumbs if we still aren’t free. And we still aren’t free. Gay people still aren’t free.

Go to Queens, go to Jamaica, go to Iran, go to Wyoming, we still aren’t free. How many places in this country, in this world, can we walk down a street holding a beloved’s hand? I went to my nephew’s wedding in Jamaica twenty years ago. They are out for blood against gay men in Jamaica now. They do it to you the minute you get off the plane. There are men with iron crowbars waiting to maim you at the airport. Does our government protest? Of course not. Who cares if a faggot dies. They are actually beheading gays in Iran. This is progress? The European Parliament which in the past had played a key role in advancing gay rights worldwide, is about to be taken over by conservative delegates that will strengthen their neo-fascist bloc, which will actually call for capital punishment for homosexuals. You don’t think that any of this can’t happen here? I do. Our country’s top soldier said so this morning. We are immoral. The Mayor of Moscow calls us dirt. Polish leaders call us scum. Ann Coulter calls us sissies. General Pace calls us immoral. Who cares if a faggot dies. A gay person murdered in Iraq or Libya or Nigeria or Jamaica or Ghana or Saudi Arabia is the same as a gay person murdered here. Why do I harp so on gay murders in foreign countries. Because gay murders in Iran have a way of becoming gay hate in Paris and London and Chicago and in the highest rank of US Army. Particularly when our own government ignores all attacks against us anywhere. Who cares of a faggot dies. It is all one world now. The disposal of gay people is an equal opportunity employer and hate is a disease that spreads real fast. I repeat: a gay kid murdered anywhere is a gay kid murdered here.

Yes, we have many things to worry about now besides HIV.

You can get married now in New Jersey but New York judges handed down some of the most bigoted “legal” hate outside of Iran, where as I have just said they are now actually decapitating gay men. They are stringing up gay boys and putting masks over their heads and hanging them as Saddam Hussein was hanged. For being gay. Does our government protest? Does any government protest? Of course not. Who cares if a faggot dies. Do you have friends in love with partners forbidden from entering America? To be separated by force from the one you love is one of the saddest things I can think of. What kind of police state do we live in? This is not right. This is wrong. It does not happen for straight lovers. It can only happen to gays who live in a country where we are hated. How many years do we have to endure being treated like this? If countries like Australia and New Zealand recognize relationship residencies for mixed nationalities, why can’t we? There was not one single demonstration against those New York judges, or indeed against any judges who are such dictators of our lives, where they work and live and sleep each night. They cannot be allowed to continue to hate us so legally. America cannot be allowed to continue to hate us so actively. It is not right. It is wrong. Don’t right and wrong mean anything anymore? Why are we not specifically included in Hate Crimes laws in many states? How many Matthew Shepherds must there be before we are specifically included in Hate Crime laws in every state?

We have right on our side and we must make everyone know it. If ACT UP is to stand for anything, let it stand for our Army Corps to Unleash Power.

Think about it. Think about all of this. Please.

We are the only people in America that it is socially acceptable to hate and discriminate against. Indeed so much hate of us exists that it is legally acceptable to pass constitutional amendments to hate us even more. This is democracy? This is how our courts and laws protect us? These are the equal rights for all that America’s Bill of Rights proclaims for all?

The biggest enemy we must fight continues to be our own government. How dare we stop? We cannot stop. We are not crumbs and we must not accept crumbs and we must stop acting like crumbs.

ACT UP is the most successful grass roots organization that ever lived. Period. There never was, never has been one more successful that has achieved as much as we. We did it before. We can do it again. But to be successful, activism must be practiced every day. By a lot of people. It made us proud once. It united us.

I constantly hear in my ears the refrain: “an army of lovers cannot lose.” Then why are we losing so? We must trust each other to an extent we never have, enough to allow the appointment of leaders and a chain of command to stay on top of things and keep some sort of order so that we not only don’t self destruct as we seem to have more or less done, but also, this time, as we did not do before, institutionalize ourselves for longevity.

I am very aware that as I spin this out I am creating reams of unanswered questions. Well, we didn’t know when we first met in this very room twenty years ago what we wanted ACT UP to become. But we figured it out. Bit by bit and piece by piece we put it together. We have a lot to thrash out and codify in a more private fashion. Armies shouldn’t show all their cards to the world. Many parts of the old ACT UP will still serve us: the choices of a variety of issues to obsess us in the detail that we became famous for; the use of affinity groups that develop their own forms of guerilla warfare. Our call for Health Care for All must still be sought. I have a personal bug up my ass that gay history is not taught in the schools. Abraham Lincoln and George Washington were gay. It may be up to activists to ram this truth down the throats of America because gay historians are too timid to. Timidity is so boring, don’t you agree?

Much of what I am calling for involves laws, changing them, getting them. We need to cobble together an omnibus gay rights bill and then hold every politician’s feet to this fire until he or she supports it. We’d find out fast enough who are friends aren’t. TAG and AmFAR once cobbled together a bunch of research priorities into a bill that they got through congress.

How about this: Jim Eigo wrote me: “a full generation after AIDS emerged as a recognizable disease, having sex still poses the same risk for HIV infection or reinfection. Having a sexual encounter with another person—a central, meaningful activity in most people’s lives—has been shadowed by fear, by the prospect of a long-term disease and by a whole new reason for guilt for more than a quarter of a century now. How have we allowed this unnatural state of affairs to persist for so long? Where are the 21st century tools for preventing the sexual transmission of HIV: cheap, effective, and utterly unobtrusive. Lovers deserve nothing less. Instead of sinking time, effort, and money into excavating the fossils of its ancient achievement, ACT UP might consider marking its birthday by mounting a fresh drive to remind government and industry that people have a right to sex without fear, without being forced to make a choice between pleasure and health. It’s an issue that might actually speak across the divides of generation, race, gender and sero-status. And it might regain for the organization some measure of the relevance it once had for the grassroots activists that gave of themselves as if their lives depended on it, because they really did.” Jim is calling for nothing less than the reclamation of our sex lives. What an utterly fantastic notion, or shall I now say goal? Why even raising this issue will find us hated even more. I am so ready for another organized fight.

Are you beginning to see how all this that I am talking about can be streamed into one new ACT UP army?

I have asked Eric to convey the main difference of what is available to us now that we did not have to work with in the past:

“In the age of the internet we can do much of what we did in our meetings and on the streets, on the world wide web.

“The information technology available today could help end the need for those endless meetings.

“Creating a blog could, in fact, incorporate even more voices and varieties of opinions and ideas than any meeting ever could.

“Where ACT UP once had chapters in many cities, we could now involve thousands more via simple list-serves and blogs. We can draw in students and schools and colleges all over the world. It is the young we have to get to once again.

“Creating a blog would allow for expression and refinement of ideas and policies, like a Queer Justice League for denouncing our enemies.

“A well organized website could function as an electronic clearing house for sharing information, for posting problems, for demanding solutions, for developing and communicating action plans.

“List-serves and a website could coordinate grassroots organizing and mobilize phone, e-mail and physical zaps or actions. They could also be used to spotlight homophobic actions, articles, movies and tv, and laws.

“Why aren’t we fighting fire with fire? Where is our radical gay left think tank? We need our own “700 Club” and our own talk radio show. Developing such gay content programming for the LOGO or Here Networks or for streaming on-line is completely possible today. Why are all the shows our community is producing about fashion, decorating or just another gay soap?”

Why even Time Magazine is now stating as a fact that websites drive the agendas of political parties.

I know that even without these tools we reordered an entire world’s approach to a disease that would have killed us all. Surely with these tools and with all our creativity we can start to take control of our destinies again.

With these tools, and with a renewed commitment to love and support and to fight to save each other, with a renewed commitment to the anger that saved us once before, with the belief that anger, along with love, are the two most healthy and powerful emotions we are good at, I believe that we could have such a historical success again.

May I conclude these thoughts, these remarks toward the definition of a new ACT UP that will hopefully begin to be discussed forthwith, with this cry from my heart:

Farewell ACT UP.

Long live ACT UP.

Thank you.

Interview With Chris Bull of the Advocate


by Bill Clinton
Air Force One
En route to: Luncheon for the DNC Gay/Lesbian Leadership Council
September 27, 2000

Hate Crimes Legislation

Mr. Bull. Thank you for agreeing to this interview. I thought we’d jump ahead in the questions a little bit, because I noticed this morning at the press briefing you talked about the hate crimes legislation and opposition to including sexual orientation in it.

There was the front page of the Washington Post today, a man walks into a gay bar in Virginia and starts shooting. With all the evidence about this particular aspect of hate crimes, why is there still so much opposition in Congress?

The President. First, let’s talk about the good news here. There’s 57 votes for it in the Senate, and about 240 votes for it in the House. Virtually all the Democrats, but four or five of them, are for it. And we’ve got 41 Republicans on a motion to instruct the conferees to leave it in the defense bill. So there’s no question that we now have a majority for it.

How would it not be included in? The leadership of the Congress and the leadership of the Republican Party is still well to the right of the country on this issue. Same thing in Texas, you know, they could have had a hate crimes bill after James Byrd was killed, if Governor Bush had just lifted a finger for it. But he was unwilling to take on the rightwing in his own party, and so it died.

And it’s the same thing in Washington. If the leaders of the House and the Senate can be persuaded to instruct their conferees to follow the will of the majority, it will prevail. If it doesn’t prevail, it’s because the leadership of the Congress and the leadership of the Republicans is still to the right of the country on the issue.

Matthew Shepard

Mr. Bull. As you may remember, the murder of Matthew Shepard, the student in Wyoming—-

The President. I remember it vividly.

Mr. Bull. —-really changed the way Americans see hate crimes against gay people. What was your initial reaction to that murder?

The President. Well, I think it was particularly horrifying and heartbreaking because he was so young and so small and the way they killed him was so graphic. But it did galvanize the country. You know, the American people are fundamentally decent. But like human beings everywhere, since the dawn of time, they’re afraid of something that’s profoundly different from the life they know and the experiences they’ve had.

Usually, the way civilization progresses is something happens that forces people to see things in a different way, in a more human way. And that’s what Matthew Shepard’s death did. I think the fact that his parents, who are obviously not leftwing activists, just mainstream, hardworking Americans, became advocates for the hate crimes legislation and the fact that that police commissioner there, O’Malley, was so eloquent in saying that the experience of dealing with Matthew’s death and dealing with his family and his friends had changed his life, as well as his attitudes.

I think those three people deserve an enormous amount of credit for the way the country has moved.

Mr. Bull. With the depth of the problem that you’ve just described, people’s psychological response to difference, is hate crimes legislation really the best way to deal with the problem? Does it really get at the roots of it?

The President. Well, I think it’s just one piece of it. I think it’s really important to pass ENDA, and there are big majorities for ENDA in the country, too. And it hasn’t passed for the same reason.

The other thing I think that’s important–and ENDA would really feed into this–is that we just need people, all the American people, to have the opportunity to interact on a human level, in the workplace, in social settings, with gays and lesbians and know that they’re interacting with them. Personal contact, it may sound old-fashioned and naive–it’s not a substitute for laws–but it will change attitudes.

I’ll never forget in the administration’s early debate over gays in the military, there was a national poll published which showed that Americans, who knew a gay person and knew they knew a gay person, were 2-1 in favor of changing the policy. So if you believe that most people have goodness in them and will, other things being equal, treat their fellow human beings in a decent and fair way, then you have to overcome ignorance and fear. And it takes time, and it takes contact.

President’s Background on Gay Rights

Mr. Bull. One of the things for which your administration will be remembered is, early on, you talked a lot about gay people in a way that Americans hadn’t heard from that level of government, which is in terms of tolerance, inclusiveness, a place at the table, having no one to waste. How did you come across that approach to including gay people in, sort of, the rhetoric of the civil rights movement?

The President. Personal contact. In 1977, when I was attorney general, there was an attempt to make–we had just adopted a new criminal code, and the criminal code had gotten rid of all the status offenses, including homosexuality. I imagine those old laws are still on the books in some States.

And one of our legislators went home, and he lived in a very conservative district, and he was roundly abused by the religious right at the time. And that’s just when they were getting up and going there, in the midseventies. So he came back and introduced a bill, essentially, to make homosexuality a crime again but turning it from a status offense into an act. And I tried to kill it then. It just struck me as wrong.

And I remember, it was the first thing that sort of, I don’t know, brought me to the attention of some of the gay community in my home State. It was never a big issue. And I failed. I thought I had it done, and I failed. Literally in the last 30 minutes of the last day of the legislative session, they voted it out. And we knew we had to kill it in committee because the legislators would be afraid to vote against it back then.

I knew from the time I was a boy growing up that I knew people who were gay, even though they didn’t talk about it. So I always felt that. And then when I started running for President and people who were active in the gay rights cause started to talk to me–starting with David Mixner, who had been a friend of mine for, by then, way over 20 years–I just decided that it was one thing I was going to try to make a difference in. And I started actively seeking out members of the gay community. Marty Rouse helped me a lot in New York, took me to a big meeting there I never will forget.

I know it seems sort of–it probably seems strange to everybody. I was running on a New Democratic platform. I was a Governor of a southern State, and on issues like fiscal responsibility and some foreign policy issues I was, I suppose, to the right of where most activist Democrats were. But it just struck me as a human rights issue from the beginning, and a personal issue.

Future of Gay Rights

Mr. Bull. Having set that tone in the White House, is there–how do we maintain it after you’re in office? How do we make sure it doesn’t go back to pitting groups against one another?

The President. Well, first of all, I think that it will never be quite the same. I think we have to give–you can’t give me too much credit and give the gay community too little, or give the American people too little credit. I mean, I don’t think it will ever be fashionable for people in national life to demonize gays again.

But I think the extent to which we continue to progress will depend entirely on who’s elected. Al Gore is for the hate crimes legislation and the “Employment and Non-Discrimination Act” and has been at least as open, if not more open, than me in pursuing this cause. This is something that he really, really feels strongly about.

And I don’t believe Governor Bush is a bad person, with a bad heart. I think he basically has a good heart. But I think that–you know, he passed on the hate crimes bill in Texas, and I don’t think he’ll be for the “Employment and Non-Discrimination Act.” And if he wins and he keeps his majority in Congress, I just don’t think we’ll get very far legislatively. And there won’t be nearly as many appointments, and I don’t think the approach to AIDS, both at home and abroad, will be nearly as aggressive.

Legislative Agenda/Gays in the Military

Mr. Bull. With all your success in setting a different tone on the gay rights debate, the legislative and policy related areas have been more challenging. How do you think–I mean, what needs to be done to actually make concrete legislative gains in terms of the military policy, et cetera?

The President. Well, I think two things. I think, first of all, on the concrete legislative gains, I think the most important thing is to change the composition of Congress. It doesn’t have to change a lot–you know, 10 or 12 seats in the House, even if the Democrats didn’t win a majority in the Senate–if we picked up three or four seats, so that it was effectively a split, I think it would change the landscape dramatically.

So I think if you had a President who was committed and some changes in the Congress, even modest changes, I think it would make a huge difference on the legislative front.

On the gays in the military issue, I think it’s important to remember—-

Mr. Bull. That was a case I’m sure a lot of Democrats who opposed an initiative—-

The President. Oh, we got killed. I think a lot of people forget– and I don’t want to be too defensive about this–but a lot of people forget that I did not accept General Powell’s proposed compromise until the Senate had voted 68-32 in a resolution against my position. The House, we knew there were over 300 votes against us, so we knew they had a veto-proof majority. But we thought we might be able to sustain a veto of an attempt to ratify the old policy, until the Senate voted 68-32 against it. So that meant they had a veto-proof majority in both Houses.

So my guess is that what the next move should be is to try to get the Congress to restore to the military and the executive branch discretion to make this decision and then to try to explore–because I think there have been some changes in attitudes to the military, too– whether there is–you know, what kind of steps could be taken from there.

I don’t think that the Congress would be willing to legislatively reverse it and adopt the policy that I favor. But they might be willing to give the policy back to the executive branch and to the military on the condition that the President pledge to kind of work through this thing with the military. And I do believe there has been some progress there. There’s still a lot of resistance, too, as you know, but I think there has been some progress.

Mr. Bull. You were pilloried on both sides of that issue in ’93.

The President. The worst of all worlds, everybody was mad at me.

Mr. Bull. Because you had your friend David Mixner–was protesting. And you said at the time that you had spilt a lot of blood on the issue. What did you mean by that?

The President. Well, just that. I mean, I cared a lot about it. I thought I was right. I didn’t agree to compromise until I was beat. One of the things I learned the first 2 years is that–I don’t think it was apparent to 90 percent of the people in the gay community who cared about this that we were beat. That is, I don’t think that we made enough of the Senate vote, and maybe what I should have done, if I just was concerned about my own standing and clarity, is just let them pass it and veto it. Then they’d override the veto. We’d be back where we were.

But the way they implemented the changes that we announced in the first few years were just about as bad as it was before. Now, it’s gotten a little better now. Bill Cohen has gotten on it and changed a lot of the training. There is no question that as a practical matter, even though it’s unsatisfying as a matter of principle, that if the policy as I announced it or implemented it, it would be better than the policy before. But for years there was a lot of resistance to that.

I think it is going to get better now if the next Secretary of Defense hews to the line that Secretary Cohen has set out.

Gay Community Leadership

Mr. Bull. The gay rights movement I think eventually came to see that it, itself, had failed to provide you a certain amount of political cover to create the conditions in America in which people supported such a change. You’ve experienced gay rights leaders for a long time now. How do you think it could become a more effective, mainstream political force in the long run?

The President. Well, first of all, I don’t think that they failed any more than I did. Look, I fight a lot of fights I don’t win. The NRA beats me more than I beat them in Congress. The insurance companies beat me on health care, and so far, they’re beating us on the Patients’ Bill of Rights. The drug companies, so far, are beating us on adding a Medicare drug benefit.

So it shouldn’t be surprising or, I would argue, discouraging that the first time you come out of the box on some of these issues you don’t win. America has always been, like all societies, a place where organized, entrenched interests initially have more power than even popular causes that are not equally well organized, particularly when the issue may not be a voting issue yet with the American people.

There are lots of issues where a majority, maybe even two-thirds, agree with me, and I still can’t pass it in Congress because to the people who are against it, it’s a voting issue or a contribution issue, and to people who are for it, it isn’t.

Now, I think the gay community has come a long way just since I’ve been here, both in terms of the sophistication of it’s arguments and the quality of its organization and its active participation in the political process, including contributing to campaigns of the people you agree with and believe in. So I think all that is to the good.

But I still say, I think the most important thing–I was just looking over the people that are going to be at this lunch that we’re going to and what they do for a living. They have normal jobs in big companies that are important, and they’re in a position to exercise influence over people with whom they work. The thing I think is important is to try to get more non-gay supporters of these issues who see it as civil rights issues and see it as a voting issue, an important political priority. And I think that it’s going that way.

Same-Sex Marriage

Mr. Bull. In ’96–I think I actually had the year wrong–you signed the Defense of Marriage Act. Do you think Americans–and, politically, that was a hard issue for everyone in Congress, as well as you. Do you think Americans will ever come to the point where they can find same-sex marriage acceptable?

The President. I don’t know the answer to that. But again, I think that under the law, gay couples who have manifested a genuine commitment should have all the legal options that others do, whether it’s how they leave their estates or cover their partners with health insurance on the job or such simple things as the right to visit hospital beds during family visiting hours, you know, the whole panoply of things.

And then I think that when people come to respect that, and people will put their own words to whatever the relationship is and it will– the main thing is that we recognize the integrity of commitments and the right citizens have to leave their property and take care of the health of people they love and all the things that people do.

Also, I think one of the things that may impact this debate in the future is the parallel debate that’s going on in some places still over adoptions, because you see more and more gay couples adopting kids. Very often, they’re children who wouldn’t be taken by other people or who haven’t been. And I think that’s going to have an impact on people.

I’ve always felt that all those anti-adoption laws were wrong. I think that the present law is the right–the historical, almost common law standard in America, although it’s in statute now and our country is–these decisions should be made based on what’s best for the child. I think that responsible childrearing is the most important work of any society. And insofar as people see it being done by gay couples, I think that will add to a bill’s support for fair treatment.

Mr. Bull. Have your own views on same-sex marriage, itself–not on civil union or domestic partnership legislation–changed since ’96?

The President. My views were and are that people who have a relationship ought to be able to call it whatever they want. And insofar as it’s sanctified by a religious ceremony, that’s up to the churches involved. And I always thought that.

I think what happened in the Congress was that a lot of people who didn’t want to be anti-gay didn’t feel that they should be saying that as a matter of law, without regard to what various churches or religions or others thought, that the United States policy was that all unions that call themselves marriages are, as a matter of law, marriages. I don’t think we’re there yet.

But I think that what we ought to do is to get the legal rights straightened out and let time take it’s course, and we’ll see what happens.

Gay Support

Mr. Bull. Just two or three more questions. With your political troubles with the GOP and the House, polls showed that gays and lesbians, along with African-Americans, were among your staunchest supporters. They really rallied to your cause and thought it was very, by and large–you know, there are certainly gay Republicans who would disagree–felt that you were being treated unfairly, your private life being used against you.

How do you feel about that support that you got from—-

The President. First of all, I was honored to have it. And secondly, I think that partly it came out of the same wellspring of experience that prompted so many African-Americans to stick with me. They’ve been there. The people who’ve been targeted, who’ve been publicly humiliated and abused, I think, identified with what was going on, because they knew, the whole world, if anybody had been paying attention, knew by then that the whole Whitewater thing was a fraud–it never amounted to anything, which has now been acknowledged–that the civil lawsuit against me was also totally unmeritorious, as even the judge said.

So they knew that basically the whole thing was just a vehicle to try to find some last, desperate way to undermine the result of two elections and what I was trying to do for the America people and the fact that I tried to be a President for people who had been left out, left behind, ignored, and kicked, as well as for the vast majority of the American people that just needed somebody to do the right things in Washington.

So I think that there were a lot of people that knew what it was like to take a bullet, and they saw it for what it was.

Religious Right

Mr. Bull. Gays and lesbians are often the target of really unrelenting attacks from the right wing, especially religious conservatives like Falwell and Robertson. They’ve sometimes turned their focus on you, as well. Does that enhance your empathy for the plight that gays and lesbians sometimes experience?

The President. Yes, although I always—-

Mr. Bull. I mean, has it surprised you, the—-

The President. —-my empathy level was pretty high. Does it surprise me that they hated me as much as they did? A little bit. But I think there are two things. First of all, for all their railing against entitlements on behalf of poor people, a lot of those people have a sense of entitlement to cultural superiority and political power. And they don’t think anybody that’s not part of their crowd has a right to cultural legitimacy or political power. And before ’92, I think most of them thought no Democrat would ever win again. They thought they had this little proven formula, you know, to sort of portray us as enemies of ordinary Americans–to use a phrase that Newt Gingrich used against me and my wife. I think that was part of it.

And I think the other thing is, I think that one of the reasons they disliked me especially is that they see me as an apostate because I’m a southern white male Protestant, and southern white male Protestants have been the backbone of their political and social power, because we tend to be more politically and socially conservative.

So I think those are the two things that prompted it. Maybe they just don’t like me. You know that old joke about the guy that falls off the mountain? He said, “God, why me?” And He said, “Son, there’s just something about you I don’t like.” [Laughter] So maybe that’s it. I don’t know. [Laughter]

Boy Scouts

Mr. Bull. Boy Scouts of America, the Supreme Court decision upholding the Scouts’ right to determine their own membership criteria and exclude gay Scouts. Members of Congress have asked you to resign your honorary position. Would you be willing to do that?

The President. Let me ask you a fact question, first. The Girl Scouts have a different policy, don’t they?

Mr. Bull. Yes, they have no policy.

The President. Well, I can tell you that my present inclination is that I shouldn’t do it, because I think the Scouts do a world of good and because I think they can be persuaded to change. I think the policy is wrong, and I’ve made it quite clear that I think their policy is wrong. And they certainly know where I stand on it. I believe they’ll change, and I think we should keep working on them.

But I don’t know that it wouldn’t do more harm than good, especially now, at the end of my tenure, for me just to do what would be a symbolic act of resignation. I also really appreciate a lot of the good they’ve done, especially with inner-city kids and poor kids, and I don’t think we should negate the good they’ve done or we try to change what’s wrong.

I think they’re afraid. And I think there are all these, sort of, preconceptions–that I think are totally wrong–that gay adults are more likely to abuse children than straight adults. And if you look at the evidence every year in cases of child abuse that have a sexual component, there’s just no evidence to support that. But I think there’s a fear factor there.

Mr. Bull. But aren’t those kids that you’re talking about, that are being helped by the Scouts, being taught that they can mistreat gay kids, gay kids are second class?

The President. If I thought they were doing that–you know, one of the things that bothered me about the military situation is I thought there was an affirmative, anti-gay bias in the military. And there still is in some places. But as I said, I’m convinced Secretary Cohen is making an aggressive effort to deal with that now. If I thought they were, that would have some impact on me. I don’t–if that’s going on, I don’t know about it. It may, but nobody—-

Mr. Bull. Just the policy of exclusion would imply—-

The President. —-nobody has ever given me information about that. I think it’s much more a function of their buying into the presumption that, particularly, gay Scout leaders would be more likely to have some sort of improper influence on the kids, rather than being inherently anti-gay.

AIDS

Mr. Bull. Can I just throw in one question, because we haven’t addressed AIDS?

The President. Sure. Yes, do that.

Mr. Bull. We probably should get that in; I’m sorry. Because of the advances of AIDS treatment and the decline in death rates, it’s hard to maintain the sense of urgency about ending this disease. You’ve worked on it a lot during your two administrations. How can we maintain that sense of urgency to conquer it?

The President. The first thing I think we have to do is to keep in mind, keep the public in mind that there are 40,000 new cases every year, and that more than half of them affect children and young people under 25. That’s a lot.

The second thing I would say is, I do believe there is overwhelming bipartisan consensus in the Congress and in the country to continue looking for a cure and to continue investing in that.

And thirdly, there is overwhelming bipartisan consensus to continue, I think, the very large funding levels that we’ve achieved in CARE. So I think we’re in reasonably good shape on that.

The next big step that I think will keep a sense of urgency is to really internationalize the struggle, to recognize America’s responsibility to deal with the global AIDS crisis and to understand that the relationship between AIDS at home and AIDS abroad is quite a close one, especially with borders being as open as they are now, a lot of immigrants coming here every year, and our responsibilities and the rest of the world and our hopes for the rest of the world–particularly in our outreach to Africa, to the Indian subcontinent, and increasingly to the states of the former Soviet Union, where the AIDS rates are growing very rapidly–our ability to do what we’re trying to do in those areas will turn, in no small part, on our ability to work with them, to help them reverse the epidemic.

You’re going to have African countries–I’ve had an unprecedented outreach to Africa, and we just passed this big trade bill with Africa, and we’re trying to get debt relief for the poorest African countries that are being well run. But there are countries over there that last year had very high growth rates, that within 10 years to 15 years will have more people in their sixties than in their thirties in those countries because of the AIDS epidemic. Their economies, their societies are very likely to become largely dysfunctional, along with their political systems, unless we can do something to turn the AIDS epidemic.

I think we can keep more edge on the fight against AIDS at home if we marry it more closely to the fight against AIDS around the world.

Mr. Bull. Thank you very much, Mr. President.

The President. I enjoyed the visit.

Mr. Bull. I appreciate it very much.

The President. Thanks.

Note: The interview began at 12:47 p.m. aboard Air Force One en route from Andrews Air Force Base, MD, to Dallas, TX, and the transcript was released by the Office of the Press Secretary on October 23. In his remarks, the President referred to Republican Presidential candidate Gov. George W. Bush; Dennis and Judy Shepard, parents of murder victim Matthew Shepard; Commander David O’Malley, Laramie, WY, Police Department, who investigated Shepard’s murder; gay activist and author David Mixner; and Marty Rouse, assistant to the Secretary of Health and Human Services. A tape was not available for verification of the content of this interview

For Obama, Gays & PWAs = Shit


by Larry Kramer
ACT UP/HealthGap Demonstration Against Obama
St. Regis Hotel, New York, NY
May 13, 2010
(source, via)

Obama is not my president. Obama is not your president. Obama does not like AIDS. Obama does not like gays. Now what are we going to do about it? Because we continue to sit on the sidelines while our world is denied us, yes, our world, which is as much our world as anyone else’s, is denied us. Our rights are denied us. Our love is denied us. We are even denied the right to fight for our country. How long must we be denied all of this before we truly rise up in united anger!

Why is it always so hard for us to fight back? This man does not like us. When someone does not like you, you fight back. This Obama who is not my president and not your president obviously does not like us. It is not a secret. Day after day and week after week and month after month he tells us he does not like us. He tells us! He does not keep this a secret. His government does not like us. His chief of staff does not like us. His Attorney General does not like us. His Department of Justice does not like us. His Generals do not like us. His Department of Health and Human Services does not like us. This is not a new situation for us.

President after President have treated us so badly. Ronald Reagan. George Bush the first. Bill Clinton. George Bush the second. Barack Obama. They have all treated us like… shit. Like little pieces of shit that they can step on with their heels and grind into the ground. Obama is treating us just like that. Like little pieces of shit he can grind into the dirt with his heel to make us go away. I wish you could see that. I wish you could see what he is doing to us for for what it is. He is manipulating us into invisibility. He HAS manipulated us into invisibility. Our people in Washington live in a never-never cloud cuckoo-land, thinking that this man likes us, not responding as, little by little, he take bits and pieces of us away. That is how they control us. Can’t you see that? Why can’t our people in Washington see that? They give them a dinner as they take away another right.

How long are we going to allow ourselves to be treated with such disdain, to be cast way in such an unwanted and disposable and ignoble fashion?

We forget what miracles we once were able to accomplish. Every single treatment for HIV/AIDS is out there because of us. If they are out there because of us, why can’t all the people waiting for Ryan White meds get them? Why can’t over 90% of the rest of the world get them? We did not fight for them just for ourselves. So many dead young men fought as activists for those drugs to save the world and this Obama will not let them save the world. Little by little he takes away our Ryan White drugs in America and our PEPFAR drugs for the rest of the world and our AIDS organizations and clinics everywhere so he can grind even more people with his heel into the earth like little helpless smelly pieces of shit. Yes, this man, like all his rotten hateful predecessors treats us like shit.

I am so tired of being treated like shit.

I wish you could realize that my words and my language and my vocabulary are not too strong. They are not strong enough!

I beg of us all. Re-assemble! Re-unite! Fight back once more with the passion and honor and truth and unity and brotherhood as we once did. We once accomplished miracles. Why do we not recall our glorious fights and build anew upon them? They treat us like shit because we let them treat us like shit. When will we get that into our heads and hearts and fight back?

How effective and fierce and unstoppable we can be when we take action together. The only reason we got those drugs is because of direct action, mobilization, fighting back. That is the reality of what we have been able to accomplish. We are alive, for those of us who are still alive, because we saved ourselves! When we fought back rudely and together, we were able to achieve miraculous victories. I take these victories, as do many of you, every morning with my breakfast.

This Obama president made a commitment to ensure that America does its fair share to fight AIDS, in Africa, in America, and around the world. He has broken that promise. He, like Clinton, has lied to us. He does not like us, this president, as the other presidents did not like us. We are not a part of their American People. He does not want us to get married, he does not want us to fight for our country, he does not want to end the plague of AIDS.

We must have the presence of mind and the force of character to insist that he and his society are wrong and we are right.

Do you need to know any more than this? This is all you need to know. And that once upon a time we accomplished miracles.

Can we do it again? Oh, please, can we do it again?

1,112 and Counting


by Larry Kramer
first published in the New York Native, Issue 59, March 14-27, 1983
(source)

If this article doesn’t scare the shit out of you, we’re in real trouble. If this article doesn’t rouse you to anger, fury, rage, and action, gay men may have no future on this earth. Our continued existence depends on just how angry you can get.

I am writing this as Larry Kramer, and I am speaking for myself, and my views are not to be attributed to Gay Men’s Health Crisis.

I repeat: Our continued existence as gay men upon the face of this earth is at stake. Unless we fight for our lives, we shall die. In all the history of homosexuality we have never before been so close to death and extinction. Many of us are dying or already dead.

Before I tell you what we must do, let me tell you what is happening to us.

There are now 1,112 cases of serious Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. When we first became worried, there were only 41. In only twenty-eight days, from January 13th to February 9th [1983], there were 164 new cases – and 73 more dead. The total death tally is now 418. Twenty percent of all cases were registered this January alone. There have been 195 dead in New York City from among 526 victims. Of all serious AIDS cases, 47.3 percent are in the New York metropolitan area.

These are the serious cases of AIDS, which means Kaposi’s sarcoma, Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, and other deadly infections. These numbers do not include the thousands of us walking around with what is also being called AIDS: various forms of swollen lymph glands and fatigues that doctors don’t know what to label or what they might portend.

The rise in these numbers is terrifying. Whatever is spreading is now spreading faster as more and more people come down with AIDS.

And, for the first time in this epidemic, leading doctors and researchers are finally admitting they don’t know what’s going on. I find this terrifying too – as terrifying as the alarming rise in numbers. For the first time, doctors are saying out loud and up front, “I don’t know.”

For two years they weren’t talking like this. For two years we’ve heard a different theory every few weeks. We grasped at the straws of possible cause: promiscuity, poppers, back rooms, the baths, rimming, fisting, anal intercourse, urine, semen, shit, saliva, sweat, blood, blacks, a single virus, a new virus, repeated exposure to a virus, amoebas carrying a virus, drugs, Haiti, voodoo, Flagyl, constant bouts of amebiasis, hepatitis A and B, syphilis, gonorrhea.

I have talked with the leading doctors treating us. One said to me, “If I knew in 1981 what I know now, I would never have become involved with this disease.” Another said, “The thing that upsets me the most in all of this is that at any given moment one of my patients is in the hospital and something is going on with him that I don’t understand. And it’s destroying me because there’s some craziness going on in him that’s destroying him.” A third said to me, “I’m very depressed. A doctor’s job is to make patients well. And I can’t. Too many of my patients die.”

After almost two years of an epidemic, there still are no answers. After almost two years of an epidemic, the cause of AIDS remains unknown. After almost two years of an epidemic, there is no cure.

Hospitals are now so filled with AIDS patients that there is often a waiting period of up to a month before admission, no matter how sick you are. And, once in, patients are now more and more being treated like lepers as hospital staffs become increasingly worried that AIDS is infectious.

Suicides are now being reported of men who would rather die than face such medical uncertainty, such uncertain therapies, such hospital treatment, and the appalling statistic that 86 percent of all serious AIDS cases die after three years’ time.

If all of this had been happening to any other community for two long years, there would have been, long ago, such an outcry from that community and all its members that the government of this city and this country would not know what had hit them.

Why isn’t every gay man in this city so scared shitless that he is screaming for action? Does every gay man in New York want to die?

Let’s talk about a few things specifically.

· Let’s talk about which gay men get AIDS.
No matter what you’ve heard, there is no single profile for all AIDS victims. There are drug users and non-drug users. There are the truly promiscuous and the almost monogamous. There are reported cases of single-contact infection.

All it seems to take is the one wrong fuck. That’s not promiscuity – that’s bad luck.

· Let’s talk about AIDS happening in straight people.
We have been hearing from the beginning of this epidemic that it was only a question of time before the straight community came down with AIDS, and that when that happened AIDS would suddenly be high on all agendas for funding and research and then we would finally be looked after and all would then be well.

I myself thought, when AIDS occurred in the first baby, that would be the breakthrough point. It was. For one day the media paid an enormous amount of attention. And that was it, kids.

There have been no confirmed cases of AIDS in straight, white, non-intravenous-drug-using, middle-class Americans. The only confirmed straights struck down by AIDS are members of groups just as disenfranchised as gay men: intravenous drug users, Haitians, eleven hemophiliacs (up from eight), black and Hispanic babies, and wives or partners of IV drug users and bisexual men.

If there have been – and there may have been – any cases in straight, white, non-intravenous-drug-using, middle-class Americans, the Centers for Disease Control isn’t telling anyone about them. When pressed, the CDC says there are “a number of cases that don’t fall into any of the other categories.” The CDC says it’s impossible to fully investigate most of these “other category” cases; most of them are dead. The CDC also tends not to believe living, white, middle-class male victims when they say they’re straight, or female victims when they say their husbands are straight and don’t take drugs.

Why isn’t AIDS happening to more straights? Maybe it’s because gay men don’t have sex with them.

Of all serious AIDS cases, 72.4 percent are in gay and bisexual men.

· Let’s talk about “surveillance.”
The Centers for Disease Control is charged by our government to fully monitor all epidemics and unusual diseases.

To learn something from an epidemic, you have to keep records and statistics. Statistics come from interviewing victims and getting as much information from them as you can. Before they die. To get the best information, you have to ask the right questions.

There have been so many AIDS victims that the CDC is no longer able to get to them fast enough. It has given up. (The CDC also had been using a questionnaire that was fairly insensitive to the lives of gay men, and thus the data collected from its early study of us have been disputed by gay epidemiologists. The National Institutes of Health is also fielding a very naive questionnaire.)

Important, vital case histories are now being lost because of this cessation of CDC interviewing. This is a woeful waste with as terrifying implications for us as the alarming rise in case numbers and doctors finally admitting they don’t know what’s going on. As each man dies, as one or both sets of men who had interacted with each other come down with AIDS, yet more information that might reveal patterns of transmissibility is not :being monitored and collected and studied. We are being denied perhaps the easiest and fastest research tool available at this moment.

It will require at least $200,000 to prepare a new questionnaire to study the next important question that must be answered: How is AIDS being transmitted? (In which bodily fluids, by which sexual behaviors, in what social environments?)

For months the CDC has been asked to begin such preparations for continued surveillance. The CDC is stretched to its limits and is dreadfully underfunded for what it’s being asked, in all areas, to do.

· Let’s talk about various forms of treatment.
It is very difficult for a patient to find out which hospital to go to or which doctor to go to or which mode of treatment to attempt.

Hospitals and doctors are reluctant to reveal how well they’re doing with each type of treatment. They may, if you press them, give you a general idea. Most will not show you their precise numbers of how many patients are doing well on what and how many failed to respond adequately.

Because of the ludicrous requirements of the medical journals, doctors are prohibited from revealing publicly the specific data they are gathering from their treatments of our bodies. Doctors and hospitals need money for research, and this money (from the National Institutes of Health, from cancer research funding organizations, from rich patrons) comes based on the performance of their work (i.e., their tabulations of their results of their treatment of our bodies); this performance is written up as “papers” that must be submitted to and accepted by such “distinguished” medical publications as the New England Journal of Medicine. Most of these “distinguished” publications, however, will not publish anything that has been spoken of, leaked, announced, or intimated publicly in advance. Even after acceptance, the doctors must hold their tongues until the article is actually published. Dr. Bijan Safai of Sloan-Kettering has been waiting over six months for the New England Journal, which has accepted his interferon study, to publish it. Until that happens, he is only permitted to speak in the most general terms of how interferon is or is not working.

Priorities in this area appear to be peculiarly out of kilter at this moment of life or death.

· Let’s talk about hospitals.
Everybody’s full up, fellows. No room in the inn.

Part of this is simply overcrowding. Part of this is cruel.

Sloan-Kettering still enforces a regulation from pre-AIDS days that only one dermatology patient per week can be admitted to that hospital. (Kaposi’s sarcoma falls under dermatology at Sloan-Kettering.) But Sloan-Kettering is also the second-largest treatment center for AIDS patients in New York. You can be near death and still not get into Sloan-Kettering.

Additionally, Sloan-Kettering (and the Food and Drug Administration) requires patients to receive their initial shots of interferon while they are hospitalized. A lot of men want to try interferon at Sloan-Kettering before they try chemotherapy elsewhere.

It’s not hard to see why there’s such a waiting list to get into Sloan-Kettering.

Most hospital staffs are still so badly educated about AIDS that they don’t know much about it, except that they’ve heard it’s infectious. (There still have been no cases in hospital staff or among the very doctors who have been treating AIDS victims for two years.) Hence, as I said earlier, AIDS patients are often treated like lepers.

For various reasons, I would not like to be a patient at the Veterans Administration Hospital on East 24th Street or at New York Hospital. (Incidents involving AIDS patients at these two hospitals have been reported in news stories in the Native.)

I believe it falls to this city’s Department of Health, under Commissioner David Sencer, and the Health and Hospitals Corporation, under Commissioner Stanley Brezenoff, to educate this city, its citizens, and its hospital workers about all areas of a public health emergency. Well, they have done an appalling job of educating our citizens, our hospital workers, and even, in some instances, our doctors. Almost everything this city knows about AIDS has come to it, in one way or another, through Gay Men’s Health Crisis. And that includes television programs, magazine articles, radio commercials, newsletters, health-recommendation brochures, open forums, and sending speakers everywhere, including – when asked – into hospitals. If three out of four AIDS cases were occurring in straights instead of in gay men, you can bet all hospitals and their staffs would know what was happening. And it would be this city’s Health Department and Health and Hospitals Corporation that would be telling them.

· Let’s talk about what gay tax dollars are buying for gay men.

Now we’re arriving at the truly scandalous. For over a year and a half the National Institutes of Health has been “reviewing” which from among some $55 million worth of grant applications for AIDS research money it will eventually fund.

It’s not even a question of NIH having to ask Congress for money. It’s already there. Waiting. NIH has almost $8 million already appropriated that it has yet to release into usefulness.

There is no question that if this epidemic was happening to the straight, white, non-intravenous-drug-using middle class, it that money would have been put into use almost two years ago, when the first alarming signs of this epidemic were noticed by Dr. Alvin Friedman-Kien and Dr. Linda Laubenstein at New York University Hospital.

During the first two weeks of the Tylenol scare, the United States Government spent $10 million to find out what was happening.

Every hospital in New York that’s involved in AIDS research has used up every bit of the money it could find for researching AIDS while waiting for NIH grants to come through. These hospitals have been working on AIDS for up to two years and are now desperate for replenishing funds. Important studies that began last year, such as Dr. Michael Lange’s at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt, are now going under for lack of money. Important leads that were and are developing cannot be pursued. (For instance, few hospitals can afford plasmapheresis machines, and few patients can afford this experimental treatment either, since few insurance policies will cover the $16,600 bill.) New York University Hospital, the largest treatment center for AIDS patients in the world, has had its grant application pending at NIH for a year and a half. Even if the application is successful, the earliest time that NYU could receive any money would be late summer.

The NIH would probably reply that it’s foolish just to throw money away, that that hasn’t worked before. And, NIH would say, if nobody knows what’s happening, what’s to study?

Any good administrator with half a brain could survey the entire AIDS mess and come up with twenty leads that merit further investigation. I could do so myself. In any research, in any investigation, you have to start somewhere. You can’t just not start anywhere at all.

But then, AIDS is happening mostly to gay men, isn’t it?

All of this is indeed ironic. For within AIDS, as most researchers have been trying to convey to the NIH, perhaps may reside the answer to the question of what it is that causes cancer itself. If straights had more brains, or were less bigoted against gays, they would see that, as with hepatitis B, gay men are again doing their suffering for them, revealing this disease to them. They can use us as guinea pigs to discover the cure for AIDS before it hits them, which most medical authorities are still convinced will be happening shortly in increasing numbers.

(As if it had not been malevolent enough, the NIH is now, for unspecified reasons, also turning away AIDS patients from its hospital in Bethesda, Maryland. The hospital, which had been treating anyone and everyone with AIDS free of charge, now will only take AIDS patients if they fit into their current investigating protocol. Whatever that is. The NIH publishes “papers,” too.)

Gay men pay taxes just like everyone else. NIH money should be paying for our research just like everyone else’s. We desperately need something from our government to save our lives, and we’re not getting it.

· Let’s talk about health insurance and welfare problems.
Many of the ways of treating AIDS are experimental, and many health insurance policies do not cover most of them. Blue Cross is particularly bad about accepting anything unusual.

Many serious victims of AIDS have been unable to qualify for welfare or disability or social security benefits. There are increasing numbers of men unable to work and unable to claim welfare because AIDS is not on the list of qualifying disability illnesses. (Immune deficiency is an acceptable determining factor for welfare among children, but not adults. Figure that one out.) There are also increasing numbers of men unable to pay their rent, men thrown out on the street with nowhere to live and no money to live with, and men who have been asked by roommates to leave because of their illnesses. And men with serious AIDS are being fired from certain jobs.

The horror stories in this area, of those suddenly found destitute, of those facing this illness with insufficient insurance, continue to mount. (One man who’d had no success on other therapies was forced to beg from his friends the $16,600 he needed to try, as a last resort, plasmapheresis.)

· Finally, let’s talk about our mayor, Ed Koch.
Our mayor, Ed Koch, appears to have chosen, for whatever reason, not to allow himself to be perceived by the non-gay world as visibly helping us in this emergency. Repeated requests to meet with him have been denied us. Repeated attempts to have him make a very necessary public announcement about this crisis and public health emergency have been refused by his staff. I sometimes think he doesn’t know what’s going on. I sometimes think that, like some king who has been so long on his throne he’s lost touch with his people, Koch is so protected and isolated by his staff that he is unaware of what fear and pain we’re in. No human being could otherwise continue to be so useless to his suffering constituents. When I was allowed a few moments with him at a party for outgoing Cultural Affairs Commissioner (and Gay Men’s Health Crisis Advisory Board member) Henry Geldzahler, I could tell from his responses that mayor Koch had not been well briefed on AIDS or what is happening in his city. When I started to fill him in, I was pulled away by an aide, who said, “Your time is up.”

I could see our mayor relatively blameless in his shameful.secreting of himself from our need of him in this time of epidemic – except for one fact. Our mayor thinks so little of us that he has assigned as his “liaison” to the gay community a man of such appalling insensitivity to our community and its needs that I am ashamed to say he is a homosexual. His name is Herb Rickman, and for a while our mayor saw fit to have Rickman serve as liaison to the Hasidic Jewish community, too. Hasidic Jews hate gays. Figure out a mayor who would do that to you.

To continue to allow Herb Rickman to represent us in City Hall will, in my view, only bring us closer to death.

When I denounced Rickman at a recent gay Community Council meeting, I received a resounding ovation. He is almost universally hated by virtually every gay organization in New York. Why, then, have we all allowed this man to shit on us so, to refuse our phone calls, to scream at us hysterically, to slam down telephones, to threaten us, to tease us with favors that are not delivered, to keep us waiting hours for an audience, to lie to us – in short, to humiliate us so? He would not do this to black or Jewish leaders. And they would not take it from him for one minute. Why, why, why do we allow him to do it to us? And he, a homosexual!

One can only surmise that our mayor wants us treated this way.

My last attempt at communication with Herb Rickman was on January 23rd [1983], when, after several days of his not returning my phone calls, I wrote to him that the mayor continued to ignore our crisis at his peril. And I state here and now that if Mayor Ed Koch continues to remain invisible to us and to ignore us in this era of mounting death, I swear I shall do everything in my power to see that he never wins elective office again.

Rickman would tell you that the mayor is concerned, that he has established an “Inter-Departmental Task Force” – and, as a member of it, I will tell you that this Task Force is just lip service and a waste of everyone’s time. It hasn’t even met for two months. (Health Commissioner David Sencer had his gallstones out.)

On October 28th, 1982, Mayor Koch was implored to make a public announcement about our emergency. If he had done so then, and if he was only to do so now, the following would be put into action:

1. The community at large would be alerted (you would be amazed at how many people, including gay men, still don’t know enough about the AIDS danger).

2. Hospital staffs and public assistance offices would also be alerted and their education commenced.

3. The country, President Reagan, and the National Institutes of Health, as well as Congress, would be alerted, and these constitute the most important ears of all.

If the mayor doesn’t think it’s important enough to talk up AIDS, none of these people is going to, either.

The Mayor of New York has an enormous amount of power – when he wants to use it. When he wants to help his people. With the failure yet again of our civil rights bill, I’d guess our mayor doesn’t want to use his power to help us.

With his silence on AIDS, the Mayor of New York is helping to kill us.

* * *

I am sick of our electing officials who in no way represent us. I am sick of our stupidity in believing candidates who promise us everything for our support and promptly forget us and insult us after we have given them our votes. Koch is the prime example, but not the only one. Daniel Patrick Moynihan isn’t looking very good at this moment, either. Moynihan was requested by gay leaders to publicly ask Margaret Heckler at her confirmation hearing for Secretary of Health and Human Services if she could be fair to gays in view of her voting record of definite anti-gay bias. (Among other horrors, she voted to retain the sodomy law in Washington, D.C., at Jerry Falwell’s request.) Moynihan refused to ask this question, as he has refused to meet with us about AIDS, despite our repeated requests. Margaret Heckler will have important jurisdiction over the CDC, over the NIH, over the Public Health Service, over the Food and Drug Administration – indeed, over all areas of AIDS concerns. Thank you, Daniel Patrick Moynihan. I am sick of our not realizing we have enough votes to defeat these people, and I am sick of our not electing our own openly gay officials in the first place. Moynihan doesn’t even have an openly gay person on his staff, and he represents the city with the largest gay population in America.

I am sick of closeted gay doctors who won’t come out to help us fight to rectify any of what I’m writing about. Doctors – the very letters “M.D.” – have enormous clout, particularly when they fight in groups. Can you imagine what gay doctors could accomplish, banded together in a network, petitioning local and federal governments, straight colleagues, and the American Medical Association? I am sick of the passivity or nonparticipation or halfhearted protestation of all the gay medical associations (American Physicians for Human Rights, Bay Area Physicians for Human Rights, Gay Psychiatrists of New York, etc., etc.), and particularly our own New York Physicians for Human Rights, a group of 175 of our gay doctors who have, as a group, done nothing. You can count on one hand the number of our doctors who have really worked for us.

I am sick of the Advocate, one of this country’s largest gay publications, which has yet to quite acknowledge that there’s anything going on. That newspaper’s recent AIDS issue was so innocuous you’d have thought all we were going through was little worse than a rage of the latest designer flu. And their own associate editor, Brent Harris, died from AIDS. Figure that one out.

With the exception of the New York Native and a few, very few, other gay publications, the gay press has been useless. If we can’t get our own papers and magazines to tell us what’s really happening to us, and this negligence is added to the negligent non-interest of the straight press (The New York Times took a leisurely year and a half between its major pieces, and the Village Voice took a year and a half to write anything at all), how are we going to get the word around that we’re dying? Gay men in smaller towns and cities everywhere must be educated, too. Has the Times or the Advocate told you that twenty-nine cases have been reported from Paris?

I am sick of gay men who won’t support gay charities. Go give your bucks to straight charities, fellows, while we die. Gay Men’s Health Crisis is going crazy trying to accomplish everything it does – printing and distributing hundreds of thousands of educational items, taking care of several hundred AIDS victims (some of them straight) in and out of hospitals, arranging community forums and speakers all over this country, getting media attention, fighting bad hospital care, on and on and on, fighting for you and us in two thousand ways, and trying to sell 17,600 Circus tickets, too. Is the Red Cross doing this for you? Is the American Cancer Society? Your college alumni fund? The United Jewish Appeal? Catholic Charities? The United Way? The Lenox Hill Neighborhood Association, or any of the other fancy straight charities for which faggots put on black ties and dance at the Plaza? The National Gay Task Force – our only hope for national leadership, with its new and splendid leader, Virginia Apuzzo – which is spending more and more time fighting for the AIDS issue, is broke. Senior Action in a Gay Environment and Gay Men’s Health Crisis are, within a few months, going to be without office space they can afford, and thus will be out on the street. The St. Mark’s Clinic, held together by some of the few devoted gay doctors in this city who aren’t interested in becoming rich, lives in constant terror of even higher rent and eviction. This community is desperate for the services these organizations are providing for it. And these organizations are all desperate for money, which is certainly not coming from straight people or President Reagan or Mayor Koch. (If every gay man within a 250-mile radius of Manhattan isn’t in Madison Square Garden on the night of April 30th to help Gay Men’s Health Crisis make enough money to get through the next horrible year of fighting against AIDS, I shall lose all hope that we have any future whatsoever.)

I am sick of closeted gays. It’s 1983 already, guys, when are you going to come out? By 1984 you could be dead. Every gay man who is unable to come forward now and fight to save his own life is truly helping to kill the rest of us. There is only one thing that’s going to save some of us, and this is numbers and pressure and our being perceived as united and a threat. As more and more of my friends die, I have less and less sympathy for men who are afraid their mommies will find out or afraid their bosses will find out or afraid their fellow doctors or professional associates will find out. Unless we can generate, visibly, numbers, masses, we are going to die.

I am sick of everyone in this community who tells me to stop creating a panic. How many of us have to die before you get scared off your ass and into action? Aren’t 195 dead New Yorkers enough? Every straight person who is knowledgeable about the AIDS epidemic can’t understand why gay men aren’t marching on the White House. Over and over again I hear from them, “Why aren’t you guys doing anything?” Every politician I have spoken to has said to me confidentially, “You guys aren’t making enough noise. Bureaucracy only responds to pressure.”

I am sick of people who say “it’s no worse than statistics for smokers and lung cancer” or “considering how many homosexuals there are in the United States, AIDS is really statistically affecting only a very few.” That would wash if there weren’t 164 cases in twenty-eight days. That would wash if case numbers hadn’t jumped from 41 to 1,112 in eighteen months. That would wash if cases in one city – New York – hadn’t jumped to cases in fifteen countries and thirty-five states (up from thirty-four last week). That would wash if cases weren’t coming in at more than four a day nationally and over two a day locally. That would wash if the mortality rate didn’t start at 38 percent the first year of diagnosis and climb to a grotesque 86 percent after three years. Get your stupid heads out of the sand, you turkeys!

I am sick of guys who moan that giving up careless sex until this blows over is worse than death. How can they value life so little and cocks and asses so much? Come with me, guys, while I visit a few of our friends in Intensive Care at NYU. Notice the looks in their eyes, guys. They’d give up sex forever if you could promise them life.

I am sick of guys who think that all being gay means is sex in the first place. I am sick of guys who can only think with their cocks.

I am sick of “men” who say, “We’ve got to keep quiet or they will do such and such.” They usually means the straight majority, the “Moral” Majority, or similarly perceived representatives of them. Okay, you “men” – be my guests: You can march off now to the gas chambers; just get right in line.

We shall always have enemies. Nothing we can ever do will remove them. Southern newspapers and Jerry Falwell’s publications are already printing editorials proclaiming AIDS as God’s deserved punishment on homosexuals. So what? Nasty words make poor little sissy pansy wilt and die?

And I am very sick and saddened by every gay man who does not get behind this issue totally and with commitment – to fight for his life.

* * *

I don’t want to die. I can only assume you don’t want to die. Can we fight together?

For the past few weeks, about fifty community leaders and organization representatives have been meeting at Beth Simchat Torah, the gay synagogue, to prepare action. We call ourselves the AIDS Network. We come from all areas of health concern: doctors, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, nurses; we come from Gay Men’s Health Crisis, from the National Gay Health Education Foundation, from New York Physicians for Human Rights, the St. Mark’s Clinic, the Gay Men’s Health Project; we come from the gay synagogue, the Gay Men’s Chorus, from the Greater Gotham Business Council, SAGE, Lambda Legal Defense, Gay Fathers, the Christopher Street Festival Committee, Dignity, Integrity; we are lawyers, actors, dancers, architects, writers, citizens; we come from many component organizations of the Gay and Lesbian Community Council.

We have a leader. Indeed, for the first time our community appears to have a true leader. Her name is Virginia Apuzzo, she is head of the National Gay Task Force, and, as I have said, so far she has proved to be magnificent.

The AIDS Network has sent a letter to Mayor Koch. It “contains twelve points that are urged for his consideration and action.”

This letter to Mayor Koch also contains the following paragraph:

It must be stated at the outset that the gay community is growing increasingly aroused and concerned and angry. Should our avenues to the mayor of our city and the members of the Board of Estimate not be available, it is our feeling that the level of frustration is such that it will manifest itself in a manner heretofore not associated with this community and the gay population at large. It should be stated, too, at the outset, that as of February 25th, there were 526 cases of serious AIDS in New York’s metropolitan area and 195 deaths (and 1,112 cases nationally and 418 deaths) and it is the sad and sorry fact that most gay men in our city now have close friends and lovers who have either been stricken with or died from this disease. It is against this background that this letter is addressed. It is this issue that has, ironically, united our community in a way not heretofore thought possible.

Further, a number of AIDS Network members have been studying civil disobedience with one of the experts from Dr. Martin Luther King’s old team. We are learning how. Gay men are the strongest, toughest people I know. We are perhaps shortly to get an opportunity to show it.

I’m sick of hearing that Mayor Koch doesn’t respond to pressures and threats from the disenfranchised, that he walks away from confrontations. Maybe he does. But we have tried to make contact with him, we are dying, so what other choice but confrontation has he left us?

I hope we don’t have to conduct sit-ins or tie up traffic or get arrested. I hope our city and our country will start to do something to help start saving us. But it is time for us to be perceived for what we truly are: an angry community and a strong community, and therefore a threat. Such are the realities of politics. Nationally we are 24 million strong, which is more than there are Jews or blacks or Hispanics in this country.

I want to make a point about what happens if we don’t get angry about AIDS. There are the obvious losses, of course: Little of what I’ve written about here is likely to be rectified with the speed necessary to help the growing number of victims. But something worse will happen, and is already happening. Increasingly, we are being blamed for AIDS, for this epidemic; we are being called its perpetrators, through our blood, through our “promiscuity,” through just being the gay men so much of the rest of the world has learned to hate. We can point out until we are blue in the face that we are not the cause of AIDS but its victims, that AIDS has landed among us first, as it could have landed among them first. But other frightened populations are going to drown out these truths by playing on the worst bigoted fears of the straight world, and send the status of gays right back to the Dark Ages. Not all Jews are blamed for Meyer Lansky, Rabbis Bergman and Kahane, or for money-lending. All Chinese aren’t blamed for the recent Seattle slaughters. But all gays are blamed for John Gacy, the North American Man/Boy Love Association, and AIDS.

Enough. I am told this is one of the longest articles the Native has ever run. I hope I have not been guilty of saying ineffectively in five thousand words what I could have said in five: we must fight to live.

I am angry and frustrated almost beyond the bound my skin and bones and body and brain can encompass. My sleep is tormented by nightmares and visions of lost friends, and my days are flooded by the tears of funerals and memorial services and seeing my sick friends. How many of us must die before all of us living fight back?

I know that unless I fight with every ounce of my energy I will hate myself. I hope, I pray, I implore you to feel the same.

I am going to close by doing what Dr. Ron Grossman did at GMHC’s second Open Forum last November at Julia Richman High School. He listed the names of the patients he had lost to AIDS. Here is a list of twenty dead men I knew:

Nick Rock
Rick Wellikoff
Jack Nau
Shelly
Donald Krintzman
Jerry Green
Michael Maletta
Paul Graham
Toby
Harry Blumenthal
Stephen Sperry
Brian O’Hara
Barry
David
Jeffrey Croland
Z.
David Jackson
Tony Rappa
Robert Christian
Ron Doud

And one more, who will be dead by the time these words appear in print.

If we don’t act immediately, then we face our approaching doom.

* * *

Volunteers Needed for Civil Disobedience

It is necessary that we have a pool of at least three thousand people who are prepared to participate in demonstrations of civil disobedience. Such demonstrations might include sit-ins or traffic tie-ups. All participants must be prepared to be arrested. I am asking every gay person and every gay organization to canvass all friends and members and make a count of the total number of people you can provide toward this pool of three thousand.

Let me know how many people you can be counted on providing. Just include the number of people; you don’t have to send actual names – you keep that list yourself. And include your own phone numbers. Start these lists now.

L.K.