My takeaway from the HBO production of Larry Kramer’s autobiographical play: New Yorkers throwing things. Kramer did more to raise awareness of AIDS in New York than anyone. He was brash, confrontational, and passionate. His play highlighted the conflict between closeted men who wanted to cautiously introduce AIDS to an unwelcoming public and Kramer who pushed it in their face. In the HBO production papers, plants, furniture and gay men are thrown. In 1982 NYC AIDS=Anger.
What struck me was the difference between New York where it took someone like Kramer to get the public’s attention and here, where medical professionals like Paul Volberding worked with community activists early and were sometimes led in promising directions by them. Attitudes had to be changed in both cultures, and perhaps it was San Francisco’s long tradition of welcoming outsiders that made it more fertile ground for public compassion. In the early days we had vehement advocates for overthrowing the establishment, but more kept inventing new ways to support the dying and pushing science to come up with answers and in the end wrote the book on AIDS treatment and care. We also re-wrote the book on funerals, and fought for the right for men to share sex.
My hope it that after seeing HBO’s The Normal Heart men put The Band Played On, a movie based on Randy Shilt’s book about the epidemic on their Netflix list. We in San Francisco accomplished what Kramer wanted in New York with just as many tears and a bit more compassion. Call us frivolous.