The Daily Agenda for Thursday, March 14
March 14th, 2013
Events This Weekend: European Gay Ski Week, Alpe d’Huez, France; AIDS Walk South Dallas, Dallas, TX; Texas Bear Roundup, Dallas, TX; BFI London Lesbian and Gay film Festival, London, UK; Camp Laurel Foundation Marathon, Los Angeles, CA; Elevation: Mammoth Gay Ski Week, Mammoth Mountain, CA; Texas Tradition Gay Rodeo, Pasadena, TX.
TODAY IN HISTORY:
McCarthy Adds Names to His Famous List: 1950. In February, Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s national profile went through the roof when, during a speech at the Republican Women’s Club if Wheeling, West Virginia, he announced, “I have here in my hand a list of 205—a list of names that were made known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless are still working and shaping policy in the State Department.” He never did make that list public, but on this date in history he submitted 25 more names of State Department employees that he said should be investigated to the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee. He also claimed, according to press reports, “that a homosexual had been hired by the Central Intelligence Agency after the State Department allowed him to resign. He did not name the man, but said his perversion made him a bad security risk.” And thus, the Lavender Scare was born.
“1,112 and Counting…”: 1983. More than a year had passed since playwright Larry Kramer helped to found the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (see Jan 12) to provide the kind of social services to gay men with AIDS that New York’s public health agencies were loathe to address. In the succeeding fourteen months, the death toll continued to rise and the paralysis which had struck local public health officials seemed no closet to abating. Kramer, who was never known for squelching his anger whenever or wherever it arose, took his frustrations out in an essay, titled “1,112 and Counting…,” which appeared in the March 14, 1983 edition of The New York Native, which at that time was just about the only source the gay community could turn to for the latest news (and obituaries) on the epidemic. It began:
If this article doesn’t scare the shit out of you, we’re in real trouble. If this article doesn’t rouse you to anger, fury, rage, and action, gay men may have no future on this earth. Our continued existence depends on just how angry you can get.
I am writing this as Larry Kramer, and I am speaking for myself, and my views are not to be attributed to Gay Men’s Health Crisis.
I repeat: Our continued existence as gay men upon the face of this earth is at stake. Unless we fight for our lives, we shall die. In all the history of homosexuality we have never before been so close to death and extinction. Many of us are dying or already dead.
Before I tell you what we must do, let me tell you what is happening to us.
There are now 1,112 cases of serious Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. When we first became worried, there were only 41. In only twenty-eight days, from January 13th to February 9th , there were 164 new cases – and 73 more dead. The total death tally is now 418. Twenty percent of all cases were registered this January alone. There have been 195 dead in New York City from among 526 victims. Of all serious AIDS cases, 47.3 percent are in the New York metropolitan area.
These are the serious cases of AIDS, which means Kaposi’s sarcoma, Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, and other deadly infections. These numbers do not include the thousands of us walking around with what is also being called AIDS: various forms of swollen lymph glands and fatigues that doctors don’t know what to label or what they might portend.
When Kramer wrote his essay, the announcement of the discovery of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, was sill two months away (see May 20):
And, for the first time in this epidemic, leading doctors and researchers are finally admitting they don’t know what’s going on. I find this terrifying too – as terrifying as the alarming rise in numbers. For the first time, doctors are saying out loud and up front, “I don’t know.”
For two years they weren’t talking like this. For two years we’ve heard a different theory every few weeks. We grasped at the straws of possible cause: promiscuity, poppers, back rooms, the baths, rimming, fisting, anal intercourse, urine, semen, shit, saliva, sweat, blood, blacks, a single virus, a new virus, repeated exposure to a virus, amoebas carrying a virus, drugs, Haiti, voodoo, Flagyl, constant bouts of amebiasis, hepatitis A and B, syphilis, gonorrhea.
I have talked with the leading doctors treating us. One said to me, “If I knew in 1981 what I know now, I would never have become involved with this disease.” Another said, “The thing that upsets me the most in all of this is that at any given moment one of my patients is in the hospital and something is going on with him that I don’t understand. And it’s destroying me because there’s some craziness going on in him that’s destroying him.” A third said to me, “I’m very depressed. A doctor’s job is to make patients well. And I can’t. Too many of my patients die.”
Not that finally knowing that a virus was causing this mayhem was going to ease the sense of panic among those who saw the devastating effects first hand. Whatever panic Kramer experienced, he channeled it towards anger. He lashed out at the National Institutes of Health for its delays in grant funding, at The New York Times for its lack of coverage, at city Health Commissioner David Spencer for the “appalling” lack of health education, at the publishers of medical journals for the excruciatingly slow pace of the peer review process which had the effect of withholding vital information — sometimes by as much as a year — from doctors on the front lines, at The Advocate for soft-peddling the growing epidemic, and at the gay community itself:
If all of this had been happening to any other community for two long years, there would have been, long ago, such an outcry from that community and all its members that the government of this city and this country would not know what had hit them.
Why isn’t every gay man in this city so scared shitless that he is screaming for action? Does every gay man in New York want to die?
But his sharpest barbs were reserved for the (barely) closeted New York Mayor Ed Koch:
Our mayor, Ed Koch, appears to have chosen, for whatever reason, not to allow himself to be perceived by the non-gay world as visibly helping us in this emergency. Repeated requests to meet with him have been denied us. Repeated attempts to have him make a very necessary public announcement about this crisis and public health emergency have been refused by his staff. I sometimes think he doesn’t know what’s going on. I sometimes think that, like some king who has been so long on his throne he’s lost touch with his people, Koch is so protected and isolated by his staff that he is unaware of what fear and pain we’re in. No human being could otherwise continue to be so useless to his suffering constituents. When I was allowed a few moments with him at a party for outgoing Cultural Affairs Commissioner (and Gay Men’s Health Crisis Advisory Board member) Henry Geldzahler, I could tell from his responses that mayor Koch had not been well briefed on AIDS or what is happening in his city. When I started to fill him in, I was pulled away by an aide, who said, “Your time is up.” … One can only surmise that our mayor wants us treated this way.
Kramer closed by listing his friends who had died of AIDS, twenty-one names long, “and one more, who will be dead by the time these words appear in print. If we don’t act immediately, then we face our approaching doom.” The article also included a call to direct action. In doing so, it forever changed the way AIDS was discussed in the gay community. Randy Shilts, writing in And the Band Played On, called Kramer’s essay “inarguably one of the most influential works of advocacy journalism of the decade. ’1,1112 and Counting…’ swiftly crystallized the epidemic into a political movement for the gay community at the same time it set off a maelstrom of controversy that polarized gay leaders.”
If you know of something that belongs on the agenda, please send it here. Don’t forget to include the basics: who, what, when, where, and URL (if available).
And feel free to consider this your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?