Magazine article The New Yorker

NOWHERE; PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY DEPT. Series: 2/5

Magazine article The New Yorker

NOWHERE; PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY DEPT. Series: 2/5

Article excerpt

Larry Kramer delivered a long and fiery speech at Cooper Union last Sunday night. That, of course, was nothing new. Kramer, the playwright who founded the activist group act up and was the signature voice of the age of aids, is famous for his fury: once, he and thousands of his supporters invaded St. Patrick's Cathedral during Mass; another time, they wrapped Jesse Helms's house in a giant yellow condom. Over the years, they hounded pharmaceutical companies and the government into developing and providing drugs and treatments.

In the early days of aids, straight people disliked Kramer for his aggressive honesty and gays ridiculed him for what they saw as his prissiness about sex, but now, at sixty-nine, he seems to have outlived the animosity of both groups. He has also outlived almost all of his friends. "It's funny," the playwright Tony Kushner said recently. "These days, audiences are fond of Larry. They seem wistful. Can you imagine that? Being wistful about Larry?"

Kramer surprises people who have seen him screeching on television or have read one of his radioactive e-mails. In conversation, he tends to speak so softly that one has to lean in to hear him. At Cooper Union, Kramer wore his usual uniform: overalls and a sweater with an American flag on it, over a red turtleneck. He looked stooped, old. He spoke for more than an hour, at the same lectern that Abraham Lincoln (who Kramer ceaselessly insists was gay) used when he addressed New Yorkers, in 1860. On Sunday night, the Great Hall was full; hundreds of people were turned away.

The speech, entitled "The Tragedy of Today's Gays," began with a dire assessment of the Presidential election. "I hope we all realize that, as of November 2nd, gay rights are officially dead," Kramer said. "And that from here on we are going to be led even closer to the guillotine. Almost sixty million people whom we live and work with every day think we are immoral. 'Moral values' was at the top of many lists of why people supported George Bush. Not Iraq. Not the economy. Not terrorism. 'Moral values.' In case you need a translation, that means us."

But Kramer has never been harder on others than he has been on homosexuals themselves. It is the main reason that he has occasionally been dismissed as a febrile modern version of Cotton Mather. …

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