Gay Activist & Writer Larry Kramer Weds

Marries Long-time Partner Architect David Webster

Larry Kramer has always done things his way.  While many people would shop for the perfect venue for their wedding and the perfect outfit to wear, Larry, on July 24, 2013, married David Webster his long-time partner in the ICU unit at NYU’s Langone’s Medical Center.  Wearing a hospital gown and recovering from a surgery performed on July 21, owing to a bowel obstruction, Kramer and husband Webster, an architect and designer, were married by Judge Eve Preminger in a noon ceremony. Twenty friends and relatives attended the unscripted vows that included an exchange of Cartier rings. The groom, Kramer, was not able to make his own reception afterward at Riverpark. ”We’ll have a party once he’s out of the hospital,” said Webster, 67, who met Kramer in the 1970’s.

The couple had planned to be married on their Greenwich Village terrace of their apartment (they also have a Connecticut home that Webster has renovated) a few weeks earlier before Kramer’s health flared up while Webster was on a trip. Kramer, for a long time, was critical of state laws permitting what he called “feel good” marriages for gays without federal benefits. Once the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was struck down in states where same-sex marriage is legal, Kramer decided it was time to marry his partner of over twenty years.

A Lifetime Spent in Opposition

Larry Kramer now seventy-eight, attended Yale University where The Larry Kramer Initiative for Lesbian and Gay Studies is now named in his honor.  After the Centers for Disease Control declared that a “gay” cancer, Kaposi’s Sarcoma, was affecting young gay men in New York and San Francisco in 1981, Kramer founded, along with others, in 1982, The Gay Men’s Health Crisis, a New York City-based non-profit, volunteer-supported and community-based AIDS Service organization still active. It was the first and largest advocacy and protest organization.

Once called “the angriest man in America,” Kramer resigned in 1983 to form the more militant ACT UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) in 1987 when the AIDS crisis was in full bloom.  New York’s and President Reagan’s Administrations were not responding quickly enough to the tragedy – the thousands of lives that were lost.

Kramer’s play, “The Normal Heart,” dealt about this 1980’s plague and had more than 600 productions.  Revived in 2011, the same year that New York legalized same-sex marriage, it was a roman a clef about his involvement with Act Up.  Winning a Tony for best play revival, I happened to see the riveting drama after which Kramer was handing out fact sheets about HIV and AIDS at the theatre exits.  He’s never lost his chutzpah nor energy for which he received a Special Tony for humanitarian service in June.

 

 

 

The Unfortunate Death of a Prominent Activist in Cameroon

One of the most outspoken and public lgbt and AIDS rights activists, Cameroon’s Eric Ohena Lembembe, was found in his home dead on Monday, July 15, with graphic signs pointing toward torture and murder.

His death comes less than two weeks after President Obama toured Arica speaking to leaders about many issues including a partnership between the U.S. and African countries, as well as lgbt equality throughout the continent.

Lembembe was recently named the director of CAMIFAIDS, the Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS, after being a journalist for the organization. His work had focused on detailing violence, blackmail, and arrests of queer people in Cameroon, where he would then publish the details to spread awareness about the country and its horrid policies and homophobic attitudes. He also contributed frequently to the bog “Erasing 76 Crimes” about countries criminalizing homosexuality, wrote several chapters in a book on lgbt rights around the world titled From Wrongs to Gay Rights, and collaborated closely with organizations like Human Rights Watch, Alternatives-Cameroun, and the Association for the Defense of Homosexuals.

The country doesn’t have a very good track record with lgbt issues. Right at the end of President Obama’s tour, Human Rights Watch published a press release detailing three recent attacks targeting human rights and lgbt activists. Prosecuting more people for gay sex than in any other sub-Saharan African country, and with homosexuality punishable with a prison term of up to five years, Lembembe and other activists in the country had much to work against. Police participate in abuse and torture of lgbt people, and the government and media continually drum up hatred for queer people, seeing them as “unnatural” and “un-African.”

The U.S. Government was quick to issue a press release, saying that “We condemn this terrible act in the strongest terms and urge the Cameroonian authorities to thoroughly and promptly investigate and prosecute those responsible for his death.”

Neela Ghoshal, the senior researcher on LGBT rights at Human Rights Watch, wrote a passionate article about her colleague Lembembe’s passing, describing his attachment to his country and his drive to change it into something better. She ends the article by saying that, if those responsible for Lembembe’s murder are trying to dismantle the lgbt-rights movement in Cameroon, “I don’t know whether Lembembe’s murder will be solved. But I do know that you cannot kill this movement. Lembembe’s legacy will live one. One day lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people will live freely and equally in Cameroon.”

Many have called on the Cameroonian government to investigate Lembembe’s death and comment on the situation, but nothing has been forthcoming as of yet. The government will have to report to the United Nations Human Rights Council in September of this year following up on a periodic review in May, where several member nations called on Cameroon to improve its human rights standards, specifically citing the treatment of queer people within the country.

As unfortunate as the situation is, Lembembe is leaving behind a legacy in Cameroon that will hopefully create changes for greater equality not only in the country but in the entire region as well.

Egalite pour LGBT en Francais Possible

Same-sex marriage bill debated beginning Jan. 29.

On a leisurely Sunday, January 27, over 125,000 demonstrators marched in Paris to show their support for a same-sex marriage bill that lawmakers would begin to debate two days later. According to the police, the march drew twice as many people as a similar demonstration in mid-December. Two weeks ago, police estimated that an even greater number – 340,000 people opposed to the proposal, demonstrated in Paris.

President Francois Hollande’s Campaign Pledge

Gay marriage was one of Hollande’s campaign pledges during his bid to become President. When he took office in May 2012,  Socialist Hollande promised to legalize gay marriage within a year. France is one of a number of European nations that already have civil unions for same-sex couples.  The civil solidarity pact, one Parisian lesbian claims, “provides limited protection and is not a marriage.  It’s simply a contract between two people – marriage is bigger, it symbolizes much more.”

The Marriage Equality Bill

The draft law redefines marriage as “contracted between two persons of different sex or of the same sex,” and the word “parents” replace “mother and father.”  The bill also allows married same-sex couples to adopt children.

The law, known as Marriage for All, simply “ gives the same rights to and confers the same duties on homosexual couples: the conditions of marriage are unchanged,” according to the Minister of Justice Christine Taubira. The French Institute of Public Opinion poll released on January 26th shows that sixty-three percent are in favor of same-sex marriage and forty-nine percent favor the right of same-sex married couples to adopt.

Just this week, two straight-with-children members of Parliament, socialist MPs Yann Galut and Nicholas Bays joined the ‘Marriage for All’ protests as allies.  They kissed to show solidarity with homosexuals and their kiss went viral.

Opposition to the Bill

Opponents of the Bill include senior Roman Catholic, Jewish and Muslim leaders who believe “the law alters the natural order of procreation and will lead to moral confusion and the erosion of the centuries-old institution of marriage in the name of a small minority.”

However, even in a predominantly Catholic country, the bill is expected to pass in Parliament. Even with the long legislative process, the bill could become law as early as May.