Larry Kramer (b. 1935) is credited by many for helping to catalyze the response to the AIDS epidemic as co-founder of Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) and the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP). His literary achievements as playwright include The Normal Heart (1985) and its sequel The Destiny of Me (1992). He is also well known for his controversial book Faggots (1978) and his screenplay of Women in Love (1969).
The origins of GMHC can be traced to Kramer’s living room. Kramer’s call to activism was due to the inadequate response to a then mysterious illness affecting gay men in New York City and California. On August 11, 1981, Kramer convened a group of friends at his apartment, where Dr. Alvin Friedman-Klein discussed a “gay cancer.” The group raised $6,600 for medical research. On January 4, 1982 a group of six men who had been at the earlier meeting – Nathan Fain, Larry Kramer, Lawrence Mass, Paul Popham, Paul Rapoport, and Edmund White – reconvened in Kramer’s apartment and officially formed GMHC, the first AIDS service organization in the world. At that meeting they discussed raising funds for research and planned GMHC’s first major event at the Paradise Garage. Kramer left GMHC in 1983 due to conflicts with the board.
Five years later on March 10, 1987, Kramer gave an impassioned speech at the LGBT Community Center voicing his frustration with GMHC’s and the LGBT community’s tepid response to the devastation from the AIDS epidemic. Two days later this led to the founding of ACT UP, a grassroots political action group. Its direct-action politics is credited with changing the course of research and treatment, thereby saving people’s lives. Film historian and activist Vito Russo watched the Pride Parade from the balcony of Kramer’s apartment in June 1990, five months before his death from AIDS.
“Larry Kramer is one of the greatest leaders in the history of the gay community and gay liberation struggles. His leadership is distinguished by the extent to which he insisted that we first look at ourselves and to ourselves if we really want to help ourselves.”
One of Kramer’s neighbors at 2 Fifth Avenue was his nemesis, former Mayor Ed Koch who lived there after he left office in 1989 until his death in 2013. Koch, who never acknowledged his homosexuality, has been widely criticized for his inaction as mayor during the early critical years of the AIDS crisis. Kramer was one of his staunchest critics, even including a veiled character of him in his play Just Say No, A Play about a Farce (1988) as the closeted gay mayor of America’s largest northeastern city. According to a 2013 New York Times article, before Koch moved in Kramer saw him in the building and yelled “Don’t move in here! There are people who hate you.” On one of the infrequent encounters, Koch reportedly went to pet Kramer’s dog, but Kramer quickly pulled the dog away stating, “That’s the man who killed all of daddy’s friends.”
In 2013, Kramer married his long-time partner, architect David Webster.