LARRY KRAMER: Using Rage to Fight the Plague

AIDS activist, and now victim LARRY KRAMER blasts away at the Government, the medical establishment and the Catholic Church

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Q. Why have AIDS activists decided to target the Catholic Church?

A. The church is perceived as being behind the times not only on abortion but also on sex education and gay rights. Even though it's representing something that is thousands of years old, every once in a while, you've got to give the machine a lube job.

Q. But wasn't it going too far when a protester destroyed a consecrated wafer during a demonstration in New York City's St. Patrick's Cathedral?

A. We're not here to make friends, we're here to raise the issues. We are an activist organization, and activism is fueled by anger, so people should not be surprised when that anger erupts in ways that not everyone approves of.

Q. Is the right to protest any more sacred than the right to practice one's religion in peace?

A. If you're asking me to apologize, I'm not going to. We're prepared to leave the Catholic Church alone if the Catholic Church will leave us alone.

Q. You founded the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, or ACT UP, which organized the demonstrations. What is it?

A. ACT UP is a street-smart bunch of very courageous scrappers. We have protests, which include taking over the opening plenary session of the AIDS conference in Montreal, blocking the Golden Gate Bridge and protesting endlessly at city hall here in New York. We have telephone zaps where we tie up switchboards. We purchased millions of dollars of tickets when Northwest Airlines refused to carry AIDS people as passengers, tickets that weren't paid for, of course. Because we are gay people and have wonderful taste and can put on wonderful shows, our demonstrations are usually very theatrical.

Q. Is ACT UP establishing alliances?

A. Because we are for universal health care, we have been approached by a good half a dozen unions, asking if we can somehow fund and organize a consensus organization. Because we are for the early release of drugs, we find ourselves quoted by right-wing think tanks like the Heritage Foundation because they're for anything that keeps government out of business. Because the release of the drug DDI has been so successful, Hoffmann-La Roche, an enormously conservative Swiss company, has now called us and said, Let's talk about making the new drug DDC the next DDI.

Q. Wasn't speeding the release of drugs ACT UP's original mission?

A. The mission of ACT UP is to end the AIDS epidemic. I think the reason everyone is coming to us now is that they perceive us, quite rightly, as being able to fight the battle, to carry the ball, to raise the issues and follow through.

+ Q. But do you need to be so confrontational?

A. Even more so. We perceive it as a two-pronged attack. We send our experts in to negotiate with the Government's experts, and at the same time we use our street troops as a threat.

Q. Don't you worry about alienating people?

A. Gay people have finally learned the terrible lesson that we are always going to have enemies no matter what. So you can't go through life being afraid of them. And that's what ACT UP has finally put into practice: Don't run from fear.

Q. You tested positive for the HIV virus just last year. How has that changed your life?

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