April 27, 2011
According to his post on Twitter, a few months ago, Lt. Dan Choi (anti-Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell activist extraordinaire) met Larry Kramer and whatever the reason for their meeting, if I'm being totally honest, I'm jealous. In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you right here and now that I love Larry Kramer. Of all the AIDS activists I haven't had the opportunity to meet, Larry Kramer is at the top of my list. He's outspoken and controversial, and he wrote a fabulous piece decrying Anderson Cooper's "lacklustre" AIDS special. What's not to love?
Without further ado, as I'm sure I've kept you all waiting long enough for this ... here are the points that really jumped out at me (with my comments) from another piece he wrote, for CNN.
2. Too many people hate the people that AIDS most affects, gay people and people of color. I do not mean dislike, or feel uncomfortable with. I mean hate. Downright hate. Down and dirty hate. / 4. AIDS was allowed to happen. It is a plague that need not have happened. It is a plague that could have been contained from the very beginning. / 5. It is a plague that is not going to go away. It is only going to get worse.
I would like to think, whether you loved Reagan or hated him, we can all agree that he seriously dropped the ball with AIDS. Not so. A few years ago, Eli Stone had an episode built around George Michael's I Want Your Sex. The fact that I loved the show notwithstanding, I loved the episode and the pro-sex-education stance of it. In it, a girl takes on her school's abstinence-only program by playing I Want Your Sex over the PA system. George Michael himself hires Eli Stone to defend the girl. In his testimony, he says that I Want Your Sex was written at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, before Reagan even so much as mentioned the word. I took to IMDb immediately after the show to weigh in and read what other viewers were saying. Turns out a lot of people think Reagan handled AIDS superbly, and those who concede that he maybe did some things wrong still say he did the best he could.
Here's what I can't get over: What would later be called AIDS was first seen in 1981 but Reagan didn't mention it until 1985! By then 5,636 people had died, including Rock Hudson. And if Rock Hudson hadn't died, when would he have mentioned it? Could he have made it through his entire presidency without saying the word? If it had been a new type of cancer that infected straight people in the upper middle class would it have taken so long or would he have been more than happy to not only mention it but pledge funds to fight it?
To digress a bit for a moment, if you'll allow me, a lot of people have taken Kramer's statement that AIDS could have been contained to mean that Kramer is for the quarantining of gay men. While I can't speak for the man, I can't help thinking that he's thinking, as I am, that the death toll could have been contained if more had been done at the beginning to learn how it was spread, and what was needed to treat it. Instead, Reagan did nothing and left the American people, and people worldwide, with the permanent imprint of multiple loss. Worldwide, people have this annoying habit of looking to the U.S. for their reaction in times of crisis. Reagan not reacting can no doubt be blamed, at least in part, for present-day AIDS apathy. Before I'm accused of being vehemently anti-Reagan, I should also mention that other world leaders at the time didn't do so hot either.
When Reagan died in 2004, 529,113 Americans had died (of AIDS). The New York Times obituary, notable for being really freakin' long, is also notable for not mentioning AIDS once.
Until we as a society are colorblind, gender-neutral, and don't give a damn whether someone is gay, straight, bi, transgender, whatever, Larry Kramer's right. AIDS is not going away, it's only going to get worse.
The world can do great things with great leaders, like reduce the spread of AIDS, or I don't know, maybe even cure it. We just need a leader with the cojones to do something great. I'm just throwing that out there.
8. Educational campaigns, indeed all attempts at prevention, have been too stupid, useless, lily-livered, and nicey-nicey to accomplish much of anything.
My history with sex ed is different from many. After all, I did my first AIDS report in the sixth grade, which extended later that same year to the other grade six classes. We had "stupid, useless, lily-livered" sex ed classes in junior high, but the one that's got to take the cake was in grade 11. In Nova Scotia we have this mandatory class called CLM/PAL; the PAL part is basically gym class, and the CLM part is kind of like health class meets life coaching.
I don't have statistics on this, but it seems to me that with the age of consent being somewhere around 16 in North America and puberty hitting at around 10-12, people in the eleventh grade are more likely to be sexually active than those in the sixth. So it would make sense to have a more progressive, more detailed sex ed curriculum in high school ... right?
If you just nodded in agreement, what actually happened may come as something of a shock. This is a breakdown of what we actually learned in CLM: something about hormones, insert brief blurb about condoms, 5-10 minutes about STDs, finish with a game. And the game consisted of shaking hands and maybe you shook hands with someone with a card with an STD on it, and maybe you didn't. To the best of my knowledge, it did not end with "AIDS and other STDs do not discriminate so practice safe sex." I probably learned more in Science, and in health in the sixth grade, than I did in grade 11.
When my friend and I wanted to do a more in-depth piece on HIV and other STDs for our research project, the teacher said it was "too depressing" and that she thought she had covered it sufficiently. We were given a choice of anger management or stress.
As far as educational campaigns outside of school, I've looked but I haven't seen anything happening. I did see one commercial on an American station quite a few months ago. Kind of like finding a red ribbon in my city -- they just don't seem to be overly visible, and I wonder who they're reaching, if they do in fact exist.
In conclusion, as a world we need Larry Kramer. We need someone who will hold us and our leaders accountable, and who won't settle for good enough, who demands action. There is a saying that well-behaved women seldom make history. I'd like to extend that a bit further: well-behaved humans seldom make history. Change and progress have never been easy, and have never come quietly. The spread of AIDS will not be curtailed, and AIDS will not be cured, as long as we tiptoe around the issue and are too afraid of offending someone to speak our minds. Larry Kramer's truths are inconvenient, but at the end of the day, they're also very, very true.
Where are the bullhorns and for crying out loud, where have all the red ribbons gone?