I find gay culture fascinating...not just because I'm gay...but because in the last thirty years gays have traveled and traversed a path that one might otherwise expect to have transpired over the course of several generations. When one looks at the evolution of gays in terms of their status as a minority segment in the overall society, there has been remarkable progress and at the same time unexpected setbacks and notable obstacles.
I recall a conversation with a friend who has published gay themed periodicals for many years. The discussion took place around 1984 and we were attempting to understand the impact that HIV would have on the efforts of gays to assimilate and find acceptance within society. At the time, conventional wisdom suggested that HIV would be a setback with potentially grave consequences. My friend hypothesized just the opposite. In retrospect, I suspect his perspective could be equated with today's colloquial view that virtually any media exposure has benefit...even if it originates with tragedy, notoriety, or scandal. In many ways, his hypothesis has been confirmed.
Jumping forward to today, three recent articles caught my attention...and set in motion a cascade of thoughts. The articles are rather lengthy and while I suggest the reader read all three articles in their entirety, if that isn’t feasible, at least read the remarks that follow the third article.
The first two articles were written by Larry Kramer, an outspoken gay man associated with the origination of ACT UP...a vocal group that evolved out of despair with the ravages of HIV in the gay community. Rather than follow standard protocol, ACT UP sought to kick down the door and demand that HIV and the needs of those afflicted be addressed now rather than later. They simply refused to take no for an answer and their legacy can be seen in today’s broad awareness of HIV as well as significant funding (though still viewed as inadequate by many) that has been directed towards the disease. The third article is written by Spencer Cox and Bruce Kellerhouse who are both active in gay men’s health.
Kramer's first article recently appeared in the Los Angeles Times and I've included it below:
Why Do Straights Hate Gays?
DEAR STRAIGHT PEOPLE,
Why do you hate gay people so much?
Gays are hated. Prove me wrong. Your top general just called us immoral. Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, is in charge of an estimated 65,000 gay and lesbian troops, some fighting for our country in Iraq. A right-wing political commentator, Ann Coulter, gets away with calling a straight presidential candidate a faggot. Even Garrison Keillor, of all people, is making really tacky jokes about gay parents in his column. This, I guess, does not qualify as hate except that it is so distasteful and dumb, often a first step on the way to hate. Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama tried to duck the questions that Pace's bigotry raised, confirming what gay people know: that there is not one candidate running for public office anywhere who dares to come right out, unequivocally, and say decent, supportive things about us.
Gays should not vote for any of them. There is not a candidate or major public figure who would not sell gays down the river. We have seen this time after time, even from supposedly progressive politicians such as President Clinton with his "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the military and his support of the hideous Defense of Marriage Act. Of course, it's possible that being shunned by gays will make politicians more popular, but at least we will have our self-respect. To vote for them is to collude with them in their utter disdain for us.
Don't any of you wonder why heterosexuals treat gays so brutally year after year after year, as your people take away our manhood, our womanhood, our personhood? Why, even as we die you don't leave us alone. What we can leave our surviving lovers is taxed far more punitively than what you leave your (legal) surviving spouses. Why do you do this? My lover will be unable to afford to live in the house we have made for each other over our lifetime together. This does not happen to you. Taxation without representation is what led to the Revolutionary War. Gay people have paid all the taxes you have. But you have equality, and we don't.
And there's no sign that this situation will change anytime soon. President Bush will leave a legacy of hate for us that will take many decades to cleanse. He has packed virtually every court and every civil service position in the land with people who don't like us. So, even with the most tolerant of new presidents, gays will be unable to break free from this yoke of hate. Courts rule against gays with hateful regularity. And of course the Supreme Court is not going to give us our equality, and in the end, it is from the Supreme Court that such equality must come. If all of this is not hate, I do not know what hate is.
Our feeble gay movement confines most of its demands to marriage. But political candidates are not talking about — and we are not demanding that they talk about — equality. My lover and I don't want to get married just yet, but we sure want to be equal.
You must know that gays get beaten up all the time, all over the world. If someone beats you up because of who you are — your race or ethnic origin — that is considered a hate crime. But in most states, gays are not included in hate crime measures, and Congress has refused to include us in a federal act.
Homosexuality is a punishable crime in a zillion countries, as is any activism on behalf of it. Punishable means prison. Punishable means death. The U.S. government refused our requests that it protest after gay teenagers were hanged in Iran, but it protests many other foreign cruelties. Who cares if a faggot dies? Parts of the Episcopal Church in the U.S. are joining with the Nigerian archbishop, who believes gays should be put in prison. Episcopalians! Whoever thought we'd have to worry about Episcopalians?
Well, whoever thought we'd have to worry about Florida? A young gay man was just killed in Florida because of his sexual orientation. I get reports of gays slain in our country every week. Few of them make news. Fewer are prosecuted. Do you consider it acceptable that 20,000 Christian youths make an annual pilgrimage to San Francisco to pray for gay souls? This is not free speech. This is another version of hate. It is all one world of gay-hate. It always was.
Gays do not realize that the more we become visible, the more we come out of the closet, the more we are hated. Don't those of you straights who claim not to hate us have a responsibility to denounce the hate? Why is it socially acceptable to joke about "girlie men" or to discriminate against us legally with "constitutional" amendments banning gay marriage? Because we cannot marry, we can pass on only a fraction of our estates, we do not have equal parenting rights and we cannot live with a foreigner we love who does not have government permission to stay in this country. These are the equal protections that the Bill of Rights proclaims for all?
Why do you hate us so much that you will not permit us to legally love? I am almost 72, and I have been hated all my life, and I don't see much change coming.
I think your hate is evil.
What do we do to you that is so awful? Why do you feel compelled to come after us with such frightful energy? Does this somehow make you feel safer and legitimate? What possible harm comes to you if we marry, or are taxed just like you, or are protected from assault by laws that say it is morally wrong to assault people out of hatred? The reasons always offered are religious ones, but certainly they are not based on the love all religions proclaim.
And even if your objections to gays are religious, why do you have to legislate them so hatefully? Make no mistake: Forbidding gay people to love or marry is based on hate, pure and simple.
You may say you don't hate us, but the people you vote for do, so what's the difference? Our own country's democratic process declares us to be unequal. Which means, in a democracy, that our enemy is you. You treat us like crumbs. You hate us. And sadly, we let you.
Kramer’s above article is primarily addressed to heterosexuals but it establishes the pivot point for the remainder of Kramer's views...views that appeared in a second article at Gay City News that were directed to the homosexual community. The article follows:
We Are Not Crumbs; We Must Not Accept Crumbs
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 Connors 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 drugs 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.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 mornings 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 judges 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 countries, 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 wed have to worry about Episcopalians. Well, whoever thought wed 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, were in trouble. When our country’s top military officer can call us immoral, were 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 beloveds hand? I went to my nephews 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 cant 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 if 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 cant 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 Americas 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 politicians feet to this fire until he or she supports it. Wed 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 persona central, meaningful activity in most peoples 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 worlds 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.
One could spend hours debating the merits of all of Kramer’s past and present suggestions and actions…but one would be hard pressed to diminish the impact his efforts have had in regards to making HIV a daily topic of conversation and bringing attention and funding in the battle against the disease.
Nonetheless, for me a good portion of Kramer’s current thoughts resonate. Having lived through the worst of times with regards to HIV…times when the gap between diagnosis and death could be less than a full year…it is hard to view the current level of gay assimilation with wholesale joy. That is not to say that I’m not pleased with the advancing acceptance of homosexuality…but I can’t help but recall the many individuals that paid the price for it...with the end of their lives. Nor can I fail to realize that those who paid that far too steep price will never be the beneficiaries of their suffering and sacrifice.
In that regard, I find kinship with Kramer when he struggles to accept the degree of complacency and the apparent lack of urgency found in the gay community. Perhaps it’s a testimony to the amount of deprivation and discrimination we humans can endure and yet still function reasonably well and with a sufficient measure of perceived happiness. Perhaps it’s nothing more than the adaptation needed to support the notion of survival of the fittest.
Notwithstanding the obvious depth and breadth of Kramer’s lengthy essay, I don’t think that it encompasses the whole of the story nor should it be the final analysis of what has happened, what is currently happening, or what will in the future happen within gay culture (nor do I interpret Kramer to be saying such)…or for the purpose of this argument; at least some segments of the community. That brings me to the final article…also found in Gay City News. The article is written by Spencer Cox and Bruce Kellerhouse, PhD., and it is included below:
Why Are So Many Mid-Life Gay Men Getting HIV?
New data released by the city's department of health show that the highest rates of new HIV infections are among gay men 35 to 49 years old. These findings are alarming and, to some, perplexing.
Why are so many mid-life gay men who were able to avoid HIV infection for so long now taking risks that are exposing them to the disease?
We believe that one common thread runs through most of these men's life histories - they came out and/or lived during the death-saturated culture of the 1980s and early to mid-1990s.
Mid-life gay men have lived most of their adult lives during the worst of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, experiencing the loss of partners, friends, and people in their community. As witnesses to so much illness, death, and loss, their voices have seldom been heard and their needs largely overlooked. Having once been the activists, caregivers, and volunteers for our community, many mid-life gay men now feel invisible and isolated. Not only lives were lost, during this period, but entire social networks and ways of living disappeared too.
The traumatic effects of AIDS-related losses were closely studied between 1988 and 1996. By 1988, gay men had already on average lost six lovers, friends, and/or family members. Researchers have shown that people who had more experiences of AIDS-related loss also had higher levels of traumatic stress response symptoms and recreational drug and sedative use.
However, almost no effort has been made to study the long-term impact of the AIDS epidemic on mid-life gay men, or to determine whether current elevated levels of risk-taking behaviors in gay men are related to the trauma of surviving one of the worst epidemics in our history. That lack of attention may now have come home to roost - in rising rates of risky behavior that are secondary to the effects of unprocessed traumatic responses to decades-old losses that haunt our daily conscious and unconscious lives as mid-life gay men.
Friendships have been shown to play an important role in health maintenance and in provision of care during poor health. The relationship between friendships and health is particularly important for gay men, for whom social networks often take the place of missing biological families. Conversely, many health problems that are now common among gay men are made worse by loneliness and lack of social opportunities.
Having survived the HIV pandemic, urban gay men in mid-life may be particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of decimated social networks. Difficulty in making and sustaining relationships is a characteristic effect of traumatized people. The normal stresses associated with mid-life, together with the lingering effects of loss associated with survival through the epidemic, may make it difficult for these men to create and maintain new groups of close friends.
Furthermore, gay men have high levels of depression and anxiety disorders, another characteristic of people who have survived trauma. Studies estimate that gay men have about twice the levels of depression than are found in Americans generally. Depression is strongly linked to high-risk behavior, including drug use, alcoholism, and risky sex.
The methamphetamine epidemic that has swept through urban gay communities also contributes to high levels of new HIV infections. A recent study from the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center, which offers HIV testing, found that one in three new HIV-positive tests was associated with meth use. About one in 10 gay men in New York City report recent meth use.
In some ways, gay men in mid-life are at the center of a "perfect storm," in which multiple problems converge to create a very high-risk environment. Dr. Ron Stall, one of the leaders in studying gay men's health, has shown that different kinds of psychosocial problems, such as depression, drug use, and partner violence, interact to create higher levels of risk for HIV - in other words, the more psychosocial problems that a person experiences, the higher their risk of getting infected.
We can't just address these problems independently, but need to understand the dangerous ways they work together.
If we are to lower HIV infection rates for this population, we need a renewed focus on HIV prevention for gay men. Many of our AIDS organizations are missing in action when it comes to gay men. They've assumed that, because we know how to have safer sex, their job is done. But these data show that the problem isn't lack of information.
Handing a 45-year-old man another safer sex brochure just isn't going to do the job. We urgently need to create programs that directly address the real reasons that gay men engage in high-risk behavior.
Our AIDS organizations need to be experimenting with new programs and new models to prevent HIV infection, but most of them are nowhere to be found.
The development of effective treatments for HIV disease has given many of us a new lease on life. But if we are to make the most of this opportunity, we will have to understand the legacy of this plague - what it has done to us. We owe that much to those who fought and died, and to those of us who are fighting and have survived.
Spencer Cox is the founder and executive director of the Medius Institute for Gay Men's Health. Bruce Kellerhouse, Ph.D. is the co-founder of HIV Forum and a psychologist in independent practice.
When I look at all three articles, they provide the framework for a better understanding of where gay culture has been, where it currently sits, and where it may or should move in the future.
The prevailing problem is how to bridge the actual gap that exists between what went before and what exists now in order to establish a unifying and comprehensive plan for the future of the gay community and its cultural identity. Frankly, it’s an issue that my friends and I frequently discuss. We came from the gay culture that preceded the AIDS crisis…a culture that was drawn from scratch by those who either hid in silence or stood out and were ostracized...but by and large we agreed on what we were, what we wanted, and how we chose to live.
We knew who we were and we celebrated it regardless of how it may have been perceived by others. Our cultural identity was genuine and it wasn’t dependent upon the acceptance or approval of society at large. We accepted our separateness and we flourished in celebrating who we were “together alone"…apart from the rest of society. Notwithstanding, we wanted acceptance…but we wanted it on our own terms…not at the expense of our individual and cultural identities.
Then HIV struck…and everything changed. Who we were and what we did suddenly became a focal point and a topic of discussion. We became known by…and because of…the kind of sex we had and who we had it with…and what “it" led to. In our grief and our attempts to grasp any scintilla of survival, we often internalized the hurtful words that we heard about what we did and what it brought upon us. Some stood strong and fought back against the stigmatization and the judgment…refusing to demonize our way of life and our cultural identity in order to understand our dilemma and to gain the support of the remainder of society. Others didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I understand both approaches to the situation and I blame neither. On the other hand, I applaud the former and I regret the latter.
I’ll attempt to explain, although I will need to step back further and also into heterosexual counterculture…particularly that of the 60’s…a time characterized by two memorable catch phrases…“free love" and “make love not war". From a historical perspective, those heterosexuals associated with this movement set the stage for gay culture. They were unconventional and nonconforming…and they were comfortable being so. They celebrated sexuality and they placed a premium on live and let live.
They endured the criticism of older generations and resisted the push to assimilate…but only for a while…and then they became reflections of their mothers and fathers…even if that meant burying what they believed to be an acceptable counterculture; albeit one that had to be defined like the proverbial “path less traveled" at every turn…and therefore defended at every crossroad. Eventually they walked away from each other and the movement became nothing more than the stories told at cocktail parties with other ticky-tacky, white picket fence neighborhood couples.
In many ways, those who were gay during this period carried the torch of this cultural identity forward. You see, the white picket fence world wasn’t an option for them…and perhaps not a choice they would have made even if they were given the opportunity. In truth, they already knew they were square pegs that simply wouldn’t fit into their parent’s version of “well rounded" existences. Thus became the gay movement that culminated with the defining Stonewall riots…the point at which those who still believed in live and let live demanded that they be allowed to do so.
At this point, let me suggest an exercise in what if. Suppose a fatal disease had struck the heterosexuals engaged in the 60’s counterculture…and suppose that HIV never arrived in the gay community. Now ponder two thoughts. One, what would the reaction have been to the disease by the parents, families and friends of those heterosexuals stricken by the disease and what would have been the government’s reaction? Two, what would gay culture look like if HIV had never forced us to adapt in order to survive…and I mean survive both the disease and the reaction to the disease that was immediately merged by many within heterosexual society into a judgment about the sex we have and the culture we embraced.
I’ll offer my own observations. First, had the 60’s hetero counterculture been stricken with a fatal disease, heterosexual society would have been forced to look at the sexual activity engaged in by their friends and family. The number of sexual partners would have been revealed and the places where swingers met and took part in numerous and various sexual activities would have been exposed.
Granted, there would have been ample criticism…but it would have never stimulated the kind of judgment and prejudice that accompanied HIV. It would have likely hastened the return to conventionalism whereby those who had lived the free love lifestyle simply would have begun to mirror their parents sooner than the historical timeframe that actually transpired. It would have also been relatively easy for them to assimilate and while that process may have required them to at least abandon the outward exhibition of their exploits, it would not have required anything else. Their sexual identities would remain intact and acceptable. However, if one were to look at today’s extramarital affairs and divorce rates, one might even conclude that it simply forced them into the closet…or the hotel room…or the apartment on the side…or to make an unexpected trip out of town for work…wink, wink. One might argue that if the price of acceptance is at the same time the source of dishonesty and deceit, then it is an unreasonable cost.
On the flip side, had HIV never materialized, the counterculture of the 60’s that became the foundation for gay culture would have likely survived and flourished in the gay community. Gay culture may have therefore remained more removed from the rest of society but it may have also remained more true to the fundamental understandings that had made it a suitable and satisfying characteristic of our collective identity.
Instead, in the wake of HIV, many within the gay community felt compelled to succumb to the conventionalism to which our free love predecessors acquiesced. In doing so, we polished our cultural persona and began the efforts to assimilate our culture into the larger heterosexual community…complete with a new battle cry that we want what you want…marriage, children, and all the accouterments of heterosexual conventionalism. In fact, one could argue that we told our adversaries that if we couldn’t fight them, we would join them…we basically said we wanted to become them.
To a large extent it has worked. But then what does that mean and for whom has it worked? As I see it, it means gay fashion and attention to good grooming is now simply prudent hygiene and fashion, it means that gay club anthems are now simply dance music, drag queens are now female impersonators, it means blighted neighborhoods that were previously only targeted by gays for revitalization are no longer hidden gems ignored by real estate insiders, it means that staying in off brand boutique hotels is now preferred and in vogue, it means that heterosexuals now tease each other with the newly accepted catchphrase, “that is so gay"…a phrase that is defended as a way of identifying the loosely defined similarities to elements of gay culture that have been embraced and accepted within heterosexuality…all of which I call the emergence of metrosexualism. The Urban Dictionary defines “so gay" as “not necessarily meaning homosexual, gay can mean stupid or pointless, even meek, lame or timid…a phrase that indicates relationship of subject to homosexual culture."
The obvious question is whether or not that is a bad thing? Perhaps the correct answer depends upon generational considerations. For those gay men that survived the HIV crisis to make it into their middle ages, their unique identities are no longer distinguishable and seemingly stolen…yet a huge number of the people they shared it’s origin with are no longer present. This leaves them and their contextual memories isolated and on the outside looking in. Heterosexuals their age haven’t measurably embraced the cultural shift and the next generation of gays has little appreciation for the historical underpinnings…and that lack of connecting points suggests that we have the remnants of a lost generation biding their time until their omission from history can be finalized.
Cox and Kellerhouse point to the growing numbers of mid-life gay men testing positive for HIV. It seems to support the argument I’ve made herein. For those men, the new world hasn’t welcomed them and the old world is a footnote in the mindset of most younger gays…they are left simply struggling to find a place to belong and that no doubt leads to depression and a lack of vigilance. Strange as it may seem, one might also argue that it suggests an element of nostalgia…a yearning to return to better, more familiar happy times…albeit now flirting with a deadly form of Russian roulette.
Couple this with Kramer’s anger that gay history is ignored or denied…and certainly not taught in schools…and not only are numerous lovers and friends dead but so too is any significant record that could serve to acknowledge the struggle, the successes, and the failures of this generation of gay men and their departed comrades.
Perhaps one could argue that Kramer fails to acknowledge the progress that has been made…especially in the acceptance offered younger gays by their peers and the apparent favorable trending in public opinion, primarily in young voters. At the same time, many within the gay community fail to recognize the damage being done and the delays in equality that might ensue as a result of the actions of those opposed to homosexuality…particularly with regards to the courts…a key point made by Kramer. While tacit acceptance may be on the rise, tangible implementation may be eroding, or at the very least subject to further delays.
Kramer’s cries for vigilance should not be ignored. His warning against complacency suggest what might be akin to what one might witness with any successful sports team…once a modicum of success is achieved, it becomes increasingly difficult to find the motivation to bring forward one’s best game…victory achieved becomes victory expected…but in the blink of an eye the glow of victory can become the shadow of defeat. Perhaps even more ominous is the possibility that history forgotten often suggests that history will be repeated.
Those who seek to indict homosexuality often suggest that the gay agenda includes efforts to recruit their children. Fabrications of this type must be refuted in order for positive change to be possible. While such accusations are nothing more than propaganda, these same people have grander schemes in the works. I recently referenced remarks by a prominent religious leader in which he endorsed the potential to alter the fetus in the womb in order to prevent a child from being gay. That’s frightening.
When Larry Kramer warns that our history is ignored and that our future is uncertain, I can’t help but think that our detractors realize that the best way to combat the acceptance of gay culture and the recording of its history is to extinguish the people who could potentially write, remember and record that history. The battle is far from over.
We have lost huge portions of one generation. Lest we forget, are we prepared to risk losing all future generations? The time to act is now.
Daniel DiRito | March 24, 2007 | 3:56 PM |
| Comments (0)