By Sarah Bahnson
The world lost a hero. Larry Kramer, co-founder of Gay Men’s Health Crisis and AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), died at the age of 84. Most known for his provocative tactics as an activist and public health advocate, he changed the relationship between public health institutions and consumers.
Kramer delivered a speech in 2007 titled, “We are not crumbs; We must not accept crumbs,” an adept summation of his contributions to the world. Early in the epidemic, national institutions were unreactive to what was largely seen as a gay disease. Ronald Regan did not speak publicly about the crisis until 1985, five years into the crisis. National and global culture was inimical, if not hostile, toward the LGBTQ+ community. Crumbs. But we are not crumbs, and Kramer forged the path to force public health institutions to acknowledge the crisis and begin research on the disease, effective medicine, and compassionate care for those affected by HIV/AIDS.
Larry Kramer was also a prolific author and playwright, centering LGBTQI+ people in every piece. The power of seeing oneself represented in popular culture, a book, a play, a movie, cannot be understated. Many LGBTQI+ people coming of age when Kramer was coming of age, felt completely alone and may not have even known there were other LGBTQ+ people in the world. Messaging around being LGBTQI+ was not one of celebration, but of shame. Banned from employment with the government, labelled mentally ill, and immoral deviants, the incentive to remain closeted was powerful. Isolation and internalized homophobia/transphobia have serious life-long health effects.
Kramer’s works not only made LGBTQI+ people visible, but asserted value for his generation and every generation thereafter. We are not crumbs, and we will not accept crumbs. We are not crumbs, and we will not accept crumbs. We have value, and we will forever demand the dignity of that recognition. Thank you, Larry Kramer. Rest in power.
~ Sarah Bahnson is the LGTBQ Community Liaison for PCOA (Pima Council on Aging)