“WE ARE NOT CRUMBS, WE MUST NOT ACCEPT CRUMBS!”
That was the title of an inspiring speech activist, author, and my friend Larry Kramer delivered in 2007 on the occasion of the 20th Anniversary of ACT UP at the NYC’s LGBT Community Center on 16th street calling on LGBT people to stop self-limiting their asks from society. Larry left us today at 84 years old. It is another major loss for our community, on the heel of other losses such as Terrence McNally or Phyllis Lyon, which is often short on inspiring leaders.
Larry’s anger at the toll homophobia takes on LGBT people was much needed. It alienated many in his lifetime, but it was necessary. At times it saved us. Besides his crucial literary work from “Faggots” to the “Normal Heart”, Larry’s rage is credited for the founding of Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) in 1982 and ACT UP in 1987.
In the words of Dr. Anthony Fauci, who himself had to face Larry’s wrath in the 80s: “In American medicine, there are two eras: before Larry and after Larry. There is no question in my mind that Larry helped change medicine in this country. When all the screaming and the histrionics are forgotten, that will remain.”
Larry spoke less than a year ago at our OutNEXT event in NYC and his determination was still intact. That day he told a new generation of LGBT corporate leaders:
“We have to understand that. Live with it. Not let it get us down, and not be surprised that so many people in this world hate us. We’re not fighting hard enough.”
He was trying to inspire them to learn their history, and fight for – not only acceptance in the workplace – but equality everywhere.
To me that is Larry’s legacy: his conviction that our community can only truly come out of the shadows by keeping its history and its anger alive. We can only succeed by looking at the way society has been treating us over centuries and never forget. In many ways, our anger has to remain intact if we are to achieve justice beyond the pockets of acceptance we have obtained so far.
At Out Leadership, we often emphasize that the burden of homophobia and transphobia is colossal. State-sponsored violence against LGBTI people in Chechnya, mass-arrests in Egypt or hate speech in Hungary might catch public attention briefly but these are only the tip of a ‘vortex of violence and discrimination’.
Violence occurs first in the family, often for extended periods of time, and then at school. Once LGBTI people leave home and primary education settings, they face discrimination in accessing public policies and services from higher education to housing. It often culminates with a lack of representation in business and politics but also in our school curriculums. Our board representation initiative, QUORUM has highlighted the abysmally low numbers of LGBT+ people on corporate boards.
This picture would not be complete without reiterating that the fight against AIDS – which Larry led – is far from over and that infection rates in the most marginalized communities even here – at home – are unacceptable.
The question that Larry leaves us with is – will we accept crumbs, or will we continue to fight until all of our brothers and sisters achieve freedom?
Today my thoughts and that of my team are with Larry’s husband, architectural designer David Webster, who has been by his side since 1991 and got married to him in a hospital ceremony in 2013, shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act.
I hope David will find comfort in knowing that Larry’s flame is truly eternal and that our community will never forget his service. Today we mourn his loss, tomorrow we continue his lifelong fight.
Further reading – Eulogy in the Washington Post