Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Remember AIDS?

You don’t see very much about AIDS in the news these days. It’s all politics and the economy and the revolutions in the Mid-East – except when it’s not, when it’s about Charlie Sheen or Justin Bieber, or, most recently, the promises-to-be-a-screeching-bore-royal-wedding. Even on the slowest news days, you don’t hear anybody talking about AIDS. But now, thanks to the Broadway revival of Larry Kramer’s landmark 1985 play, The Normal Heart, AIDS is entering the social conversation again.

In addition to being a remarkable playwright, Larry Kramer (pictured above) has spent decades at the forefront of AIDS activism. Now 76, this man who has dedicated his life to campaigning for AIDS treatment, proper medical research, and concerned public awareness, is distributing an information letter outside the John Golden Theater, where The Normal Heart is running in New York.

I don’t think Mr. Kramer would mind in the least if I reprinted his letter here – in fact I think he’d be pleased, and hopeful that he’s reached a few more people. So, whatever it is you think you already know about this plague, because you’ve suffered the loss of friends or family to this disease, please don’t turn away from Kramer’s letter. Please read it and share it with others. Please talk about AIDS with others and tell them what you’ve learned. Please help prevent AIDS from becoming a dead story, because millions of people worldwide are living with AIDS and millions have died. AIDS is not a gay man’s disease or just a man’s disease (about half of those now infected are women) or “just” an epidemic in Africa. AIDS is something everyone should be concerned about. I’ll let Larry tell you why:


Please Know

Thank you for coming to see our show. Please know that everything in The Normal Heart happened. These were and are real people who lived and spoke and died, and are presented here as best I could. Several more have died since, including Bruce, whose name was Paul Popham, and Tommy, whose name was Rodger McFarlane and who become my best friend, and Emma, whose name was Dr. Linda Laubenstein. She died after a return bout of polio and another trip to an iron lung. Rodger, after building three gay/AIDS agencies from the ground up, committed suicide in despair. On his deathbed at Memorial, Paul called me (we'd not spoken since our last fight in this play) and told me to never stop fighting.

Four members of the original cast died as well, including my dear sweet friend Brad Davis, the original Ned, whom I knew from practically the moment he got off the bus from Florida, a shy kid so very intent on become a fine actor, which he did.

Please know that AIDS is a worldwide plague.

Please know that no country in the world, including this one, especially this one, has ever called it a plague or acknowledged it as a plague, or dealt with it as a plague.

Please know that there is no cure.

Please know that after all this time the amount of money being spent to find a cure is still miniscule, still almost invisible, still impossible to locate in any national health budget, and still totally uncoordinated.

Please know that here in America, case numbers continue to rise in every category. In much of the rest of the world – Russia, India, Southeast Asia, Africa – the numbers of the infected and the dying are so grotesquely high that they are rarely acknowledged.

Please know that all efforts at prevention and education continue their unending record of abject failure.

Please know that there is no one in charge of this plague. This is a war for which there is no general and for which there has never been a general. How can you win a war with no one in charge?

Please know that beginning with Ronald Reagan (who would not say the word ‘AIDS’ publicly for seven years), every single president has said nothing and done nothing, or in the case of the current president, says the right things and then doesn’t do them.

Please know that most medications for HIV/AIDS are inhumanly expensive and that government funding for the poor to obtain them is dwindling and often unavailable.

Please know that the pharmaceutical companies are among the most evil and greedy nightmares ever loosed on humankind. What ‘research’ they embark upon is calculated only toward finding newer drugs to keep us, just barely, from dying, but not to make us better or, god forbid, cured.

Please know that an awful lot of people have needlessly died and will continue to needlessly die because of any and all of the above.

Please know that the world has suffered at the very least some 75 million infections and 35 million deaths. When the action of the play that you have just seen begins, there were 41 [known people with AIDS]. (Italics and bracketed copy mine – MizB)

I have never seen such wrongs as this plague, in all its guises, represents, and continues to say about us all.

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