Gays Recall a Silent Great Communicator
But even now, he says, some people feel uneasy holding hands or kissing beyond Dupont Circle, beyond 17th Street, closer to the White House.
Larry Kramer -- the polemicist, playwright and author -- remembers in a telephone interview Reagan's first major speech on AIDS. It was on May 31, 1987, under a tent near the banks of the Potomac River.
"I want to talk tonight about the disease that has brought us all together," the president told those gathered for the fundraising dinner sponsored by the American Foundation for AIDS Research. "The poet W.H. Auden said that the true men of action in our times are not the politicians and statesmen, but the scientists. I believe that's especially true when it comes to the AIDS epidemic."
Kramer had been writing about AIDS for some time, warning gay men in his essay, "1,112 and Counting." And toward the end of the speech, as Reagan called for routine AIDS testing for prisoners, for immigrants, for applicants for marriage licenses, Kramer started booing.
"Not once in that speech -- not once in his presidency -- did he ever say gays and AIDS and crisis in the same sentence," recalls Kramer, who co-founded the Gay Men's Health Crisis in 1982, and ACT UP in 1987, the same year he tested positive for HIV.
"Reagan always talked about 'the American people,' " Kramer says. But the gay community, "we were dying left and right," did not feel it was included.
In a telephone interview, Tony Kushner -- the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright of "Angels in America," about AIDS in the '80s -- declines to join the remembrances, at least for now.
"I'm sitting shiva," is all Kushner would say.
Today, on Pennsylvania Avenue, between Third and Seventh streets, revelers will join the street festival, the finale of gay pride week. There will be corporate sponsors, entertainment, fitness and health booths and voter registration information. The theme of the week: Pride + Vote = Power.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
The D.C. Cowboys entertain the crowd at the Capital Pride Parade. A festival takes over Pennsylvania Avenue today.
(Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)