As a freshman in 1953, Larry Kramer ’57 attempted suicide because he was so unhappy at Yale.
Nearly 50 years later, after a renowned career as a playwright, a liver transplant, and a rehabilitated relationship with the University, Kramer returned to Yale Wednesday to talk about activism and gay rights.
“I do think it is the responsibility of every citizen to be an activist about something,” Kramer said. “If you aren’t, then you’re not being a decent human being.”
Kramer spoke to about 45 Yale students at a Morse College Master’s Tea.
While Kramer said that it is not necessary to be a full-time activist, he said everyone should find a cause to work for. A longtime playwright, Kramer founded the Gay Men’s Health Crisis and ACT UP, an AIDS advocacy organization.
After a long dispute over a proposed gay and lesbian studies program, Kramer donated his papers to Yale in 2001, and his brother gave $1 million to fund the Larry Kramer Initiative for Gay and Lesbian Studies.
At the talk, Kramer criticized current government policies regarding AIDS relief efforts.
“Terrible things are happening in this administration against gay people and against people with AIDS,” Kramer said.
Kramer also criticized the gay rights movement for its lack of unity and organization. He said that progress has been painfully slow as a result.
Kramer said complacency has also become a challenge for AIDS activists.
“There was a time when people would leave major law firms to work for AIDS organizations,” he said. “Everything is strangely quiet now.”
As a result of his own struggle with AIDS, Kramer received a liver transplant last year. As he discussed the experience, he described the “simply dreadful” state of organ donation programs in the United States.
Kramer explained how he became an activist by discussing his time as a Yale student. Deeply unhappy while at Yale, he tried to commit suicide and still remembers the experience vividly.
“I can’t walk by Lawrance Hall without remembering the night in 1953 when I tried to kill myself because I was just so unhappy,” he said.
After that, Kramer said he eventually learned how to overcome his difficulties. He said he discovered an anger which has fueled his activist efforts.
“My life until now has been learning how to say ‘f— you,'” Kramer said.
Kramer explained his interest in gay history and said he is currently working on a book that discusses gay people in American history. Among others, Kramer says that Abraham Lincoln and Meriwether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark expedition were gay.
“I feel passionately about gay history and about finding out what our past was and is, and how little we know about that,” Kramer said. “What better place for that to happen than here at Yale?”
Audience members said they were pleased with Kramer’s ideas concerning both activism and gay studies.
“I think he was amazing,” Alyssa Rosenberg ’06 said. “It’s really important that people with real political experience come to campus. It can help us become activists.”
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