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Commentary LGBTQ

Larry Kramer Taught Me That Anger Drives Activism. This Pride, I’m Harnessing That Anger.

Charlotte Clymer

Our country is still complacent toward and condoning of hatred; it could use more of the kind of swift kick in the ass championed by LGBTQ activist Larry Kramer.

This Pride Month, Rewire.News recognizes that celebrating during the pandemic will look very different for many of us, which is why we’re putting together tools of resistance and hope to help us all survive (and even thrive) Pride 2020.

On Wednesday, writer and iconic LGBTQ advocate Larry Kramer died of pneumonia in New York City.

Not long after, the New York Times published a widely criticized obituary that led with a subheading claiming his “abusive approach could overshadow his achievements.” Amid the outcry, the publication swapped out “abusive” for “confrontational,” and later that evening it chucked out the entire sentence for something more accurate, with a less nasty premise.

Even in death, Kramer’s galvanizing anger rallied his community against the obliviousness and callousness of those in power. It was that kind of potent anger that powered the modern movement for LGBTQ rights, forcing the country to reconcile with some of its darker tendencies. That anger could be useful in a time like ours, under a virulently anti-LGBTQ administration that promotes white supremacy, misogyny, and so many other bigotries through which our government attacks vulnerable communities. Our country is still complacent toward and condoning of hatred; it could use more of the kind of swift kick in the ass championed by Kramer.

Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.

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Last summer, Reuters released a poll on LGBTQ equality. About two-thirds of respondents agreed that LGBTQ people should have non-discrimination protections at the federal level, including nearly half of registered Republicans. In fact, only 11 percent of all respondents and 21 percent of Republican respondents opposed federal non-discrimination protections. That was the good news. The bad news was that nearly half of respondents incorrectly believed that those federal protections already exist for gay, lesbian, and bisexual people. Thirty-one percent of respondents said they believe transgender people are already protected under federal law. In reality, beyond same-sex marriage, there are no enforceable, explicit federal protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

This was a fear of many LGBTQ activists during the fight for marriage equality: that despite being an important milestone, legalization of same-sex marriage would signal to most of the country that the fight for LGBTQ rights are over. After all, if the rights and benefits of marriage, the bedrock institution of conservative society, were extended to LGBTQ people, surely that must mean all other forms of discrimination are banned, too.

Last year, I talked to a journalist who wondered aloud if anti-LGBTQ state laws on the books are just arcane artifacts that aren’t enforced. This was after I pointed out that in 29 states at the time (28 now, with Virginia passing pro-equality legislation this year), LGBTQ people can be fired from their jobs, denied housing, denied credit, denied public accommodations, and turned away from other areas of public life solely on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The journalist was unaware of the three cases being considered by the Supreme Court on LGBTQ employment, one involving Aimee Stephens, a trans woman, and two involving gay men, all of whom were fired from their jobs not because of their performance but simply for being LGBTQ.

I have conversations like this with otherwise news literate people all the time—educated and empathetic people who are unaware of the depth of anti-LGBTQ nonsense in this country’s laws. Or the ongoing violence against transgender people, particularly Black women. Or the Trump administration’s campaign to implement religious exemption laws and regulations that permit discrimination against LGBTQ people in every facet of society, from employment to public schools. Between the jam-packed news environment of the Trump era and the veneer of optimism caused by marriage equality, the complacency toward the lives and livelihoods of LGBTQ people has never been stronger, and it is quite literally killing us.

As Larry Kramer anecdotes surfaced on Wednesday, there was a lot of talk about his “aggressive tactics,” and not enough about what spurred them. At the height of the HIV and AIDS epidemic, tens of thousands of people were dying a year while their government either pretended they didn’t exist or simply didn’t care enough to act with purpose.

As the Trump-Pence White House continues to blatantly attack LGBTQ people and much of the country looks the other way, it’s easy to understand why Larry Kramer decided righteous anger was the necessary approach to save lives. He was right.

May his memory be a blessing, and may his example be replicated in a time we so desperately need it.

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