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‘40 million infected people is a f**king plague’: Larry Kramer’s furious, impassioned HIV speech is essential viewing 30 years on

Patrick Kelleher May 28, 2020
Larry Kramer HIV AIDS speech

Larry Kramer speaking in 1991 (YouTube)

After Larry Kramer’s death, an impassioned speech made by the HIV activist and writer almost 30 years ago has resurfaced – and it is just as relevant today as it was then.

Kramer’s death was announced on Wednesday (May 27), plunging HIV activists across the world into mourning at the loss of an extraordinary campaigner.

Following his passing, a furious 1991 speech made by Kramer was shared on Twitter by NowThis, reminding activists everywhere of the power with which he spoke about HIV.

In the incredible monologue, Kramer shouts at an audience member, telling them the AIDS epidemic is a “f**king plague”.

“Forty million infected people is a f**king plague and nobody acts as if it is,” he says.

“We are in the worst shape we have ever, ever, ever been in. Nothing is working. None of that s**t you saw on that screen is working. Nothing – none of the shit that is in the pipeline that these people are studying is working.”

Larry Kramer told the crowd that nobody would take the AIDS epidemic seriously until millions took to the streets.

“Every person I talk to in every city, in every agency, gay, straight, AIDS, is as despondent as they can possibly be,” Larry Kramer continues.

“Nobody knows what to do next.

“And we have a president who cares more about the unemployed and pits people against each other, just like these people are doing, than he cares about us.

“All those pills we’re shovelling down our throats? Forget it. All those treatments Mark [Harrington] mentioned? Forget it. My beloved Brad Davis took every f**king drug… and not one of them worked.

“What does it take? Nobody knows. I don’t know anymore,” he adds.

Kramer insists that nobody would take the AIDS epidemic seriously until millions of people started taking to the streets in protest against government inaction.

“I don’t know what to do next. I don’t know what kind of organisation to start. I don’t know how to give advice, I don’t know how to lead anyone, should they want to follow.

“I don’t know what to write anymore. I don’t know how to write anymore articles cause I have said what I have said to you tonight in one form or another for 10 f**king years.”

Until we get our act together, all of us, and until we learn to plug in with each other and fight and make this president listen, we are as good as dead.

He concludes: “And I say to you in year 10, as we face a figure of 40 million infected people, the same thing I said to you in 1981, when there were 41 cases: until we get our act together, all of us, and until we learn to plug in with each other and fight and make this president listen, we are as good as dead.”

Larry Kramer left behind a towering legacy of activism and art.

The indefatigable activist, who founded both Gay Men’s Health Crisis and ACT UP during the AIDS crisis, passed away from pneumonia on Wednesday (May 27).

Kramer’s best-known work is the autobiographical 1985 play The Normal Heart, depicting the devastation caused by the AIDS crisis on the gay community of New York City. It was adapted for TV in 2014, with Kramer nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Writing.

He also penned the 1978 novel Faggots, which attracted controversy over its derisory portrayal of promiscuity and drug-taking in the gay community.

Kramer, who lived with HIV himself, is survived by his husband and partner of 29 years, architectural designer David Webster. The pair were permitted to marry legally in 2013.

Significant progress has been made in the fight against HIV, but the battle has not yet been won.

Sadly, Kramer’s speech still rings true today – scientists have not yet discovered a cure for HIV.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), an estimated 75 million people worldwide have been infected with HIV since the beginning of the epidemic in the 1980s.

About 32 million people have died from AIDS related complications.

Kramer spent much of his life fighting for HIV to be taken seriously – a difficult task when the epidemic predominantly affected the LGBT+ community – and significant progress has been made.

Today, people at high risk of contracting HIV benefit from drugs such as PrEP, and antiretroviral medication means that people with the virus can live long, healthy and happy lives.

That progress would never have been possible without the tireless work of HIV activists at the height of the AIDS epidemic.

 

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