For the countless gay people who have looked to Larry Kramer for decades as a leader in the fight against HIV and AIDS, this has been a difficult month.
On May 25, HBO premiered its movie adaptation of Kramer’s semi-autobiographical 1985 play The Normal Heart, a heartbreaking depiction of the early years of the AIDS epidemic. The film is a reminder of the crucial role that Kramer played in driving the government, the media, and the gay community to adapt to new realities.
But on May 21, The New York Times ran an interview with the activist icon in which he seemed stubbornly and perhaps dangerously unwilling to make similar, urgent adaptations today.
Just a week earlier, the CDC published national guidelines on the use of a drug called Truvada as a prevention strategy against acquiring HIV. This was an enormous breakthrough, and one that should be celebrated by anyone who cares about saving gay men’s lives. Every year there are 50,000 new HIV infections in the United States alone, many of them among young gay men.
In 2011, on the 30th anniversary of the first AIDS case in America, Kramer wrote an essay for CNN on the “realities about AIDS.” In it, he wrote that “all attempts at prevention have been too stupid, useless, lily-livered, and nicey-nicey to accomplish much of anything.”
That may have been true then, but it’s not true now—thanks to Truvada. For the past year, I’ve been telling anyone who’ll listen that there is a solution to the appalling rate of HIV infections in this country. It is Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, or PrEP, and all it involves is taking one antiretroviral pill, Truvada, per day.
Until recently, most people (including my own doctor) were skeptical that you could take Truvada and not continue using condoms. But the evidence is becoming undeniable that Truvada, taken properly, is a veritable force field against HIV.
How has Kramer reacted to this amazing new development? By rejecting it, and insisting on sticking to a condom-only message that has already failed. Worse, he is trying to shame people out of using PrEP. “There’s something to me cowardly about taking Truvada instead of using a condom,” he told Times reporter Patrick Healy in his interview. “You’re taking a drug that is poison to you, and it has lessened your energy to fight, to get involved, to do anything.”
Kramer’s willingness to fight is legendary. This great warrior for gay people should be fighting for greater use of Truvada and greater access to Truvada for people in America and around the world. Now that he is in the spotlight again for The Normal Heart, he could help spread news to young gay men about how they can take advantage of this amazing new way to avoid being infected with HIV. He could even be organizing picket lines outside the headquarters of Gilead, the manufacturer of Truvada, demanding they drop the price of the drug for uninsured individuals, which is now over $12,000 per year. (Most insurance companies pay for it.)
That would be the Kramer I thought I knew. Instead, he’s calling people names and discouraging our community from using a prevention method that could radically reduce the spread of HIV.
If Kramer, one of the most respected voices in our community, uses his authority to put down a drug that is proven to prevent the spread of HIV, then isn’t he potentially contributing to new infections? Isn’t he behaving, in a way, like the very people who stuck their heads in the sand in the darkest days of the AIDS crisis—the very people he correctly called out for their unwillingness to change?
The condom message was vital in its day and it saved a lot of lives. The battle has changed, though, and so has the weaponry. Larry Kramer is a hero in many ways , but this time he's fighting on the wrong side of history.
MICHAEL LUCAS is the creator of Lucas Entertainment, one of the largest studios producing all-male erotica. He lives in New York City. This article is the opinion of the writer.