NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Larry Kramer’s confrontational style has mellowed. Now 80, the playwright, novelist and AIDS activist, speaks softly and looks almost frail in a big leather armchair in his New York apartment overlooking Washington Square Park.
Kramer, co-founder of the ACT UP movement that made AIDS a national issue during the U.S. epidemic of the 1980s and 90s, just published his latest book and is the subject of “Larry Kramer in Love & Anger”, a documentary about his life that premieres Monday on HBO.
“I didn’t originally want to do it (the documentary) because there’s something final about it, and I still have work to do,” the author of “The Normal Heart” told Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“I still have it. It’s my motivation,” Kramer said of the anger that made him the loudest voice in a movement against government inaction as AIDS proceeded to kill hundreds of thousands of people, many in the gay community.
His activism helped lead to the first effective AIDS antiretroviral treatments and prompted changes in U.S. public policy.
“Plague, we’re in the middle of a fucking plague...and nobody acts as if it is,” Kramer screams at a New York City forum in 1991 featured in the documentary. The disease had already killed over 150,000 people in the United States.
“Larry Kramer had a reputation as a naysayer,” fellow activist Rodger McFarlane, who died in 2009, says in the film directed by Kramer’s longtime friend, Jean Carlomusto.
Kramer’s 1978 novel “Faggots”, in which he wrote about the sex, drugs, discos and drag queens of the gay male community in New York City, had made him a controversial, if not hated, figure within that same community.
As the AIDS epidemic spread and was linked to gay men, Kramer’s activism sounded like an “I told you so to the community who had so violently refused his novel...which turned out to be prophetic,” he says in the documentary.
However, Kramer’s public work isn’t the only focus of the film that delves into his lonely childhood and his long battle with AIDS.
That fight is far from over, Kramer said.
“(There is) very bad news that we discovered that NIH (the National Institutes of Health) is woefully behind on researching AIDS which is...shocking,” he said.
There has been a resurgence of the deadly virus in recent years, which is now seen infecting a growing number of people in rural communities in the United States, according to researchers.
Talking about the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights (LGBT) movement, Kramer decried the absence of a powerful national organization and said the fight for marriage equality had been strongly aided by the straight community.
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states.
“Marriage (equality) is wonderful,” said Kramer in the interview ahead of the ruling. “(But) they’ll come after (it)...This will never be out of the courts.”
As for the future, Kramer keeps busy with a sequel to “The Normal Heart” commissioned by HBO - and fights on.
“It’s heartbreaking when people won’t die, or won’t fight for their own rights.”
Reporting by Maria Caspani, Editing by Leslie Gevirtz