Saturday, June 23, 2012

'Eminent Outlaws' Error:
Kramer Not Arrested at ACT UP's 1st Action

The pages practically turned themselves when I read Christopher Bram's delicious new book "Eminent Outlaws", which details the careers of many celebrated gay male writers in the post-World War II years. He tells us all about their writing habits, fights and fucks with each other, philosophies regarding gay liberation and the closet and I couldn't get enough of this literary history.

I was surprised to make a cameo appearance, in the section about Larry Kramer creating his landmark play "The Normal Heart" and the formation of ACT UP in the spring of 1987. There a few errors and an omission that need correcting.

Bram oddly doesn't name writer and filmmaker Nora Ephron as the speaker who canceled a chat at the New York City gay community center, which led to Larry speaking in her stead. Bram writes:

"Gay people needed to get more political. He praised the Lavender Hill Mob for what they had done in Atlanta. [Disrupting a CDC conference about mandatory HIV testing and demanding the federal government immediately make promising treatments available to people with AIDS].

"Michael Petrelis of Lavender Hill was in the audience that night. At the end of the speech he jumped up and proposed they do a public action in New York. Kramer agreed. [...]

"Their first action was a demonstration on Wall Street, a few blocks from the stock exchange. The Public Theater provided a dummy of the FDA director to hand in effigy. Traffic was blocked and seventeen people were arrested including Kramer, Petrelis, and a few GMHC [Gay Men's Health Crisis] board members."

My memory didn't recall Larry getting arrested at that breakthrough action, so I asked him if was one of the Wall Street 17 and he said no, he wasn't arrested that day.

The other error Bram makes is saying GMHC board members were arrested. While former GMHC executive director and Larry's ex-boyfriend Rodger McFarlane was arrested, no board members were.

(The New York Times' coverage of the first ACT UP action. The paper had to print a correction about who was hauled off by the NYPD. Those arrested were gay and straight, and at the time the paper adamantly wouldn't use the word gay when writing about same-sexers.)

Who was among the Wall Street 17? Here's a partial list I drew up with assistance from ACT UP's Bill Dobbs. If you know the other ten names, please share them with me:

1) Neil Broome 
2) Frank Dowd 
3) Prema Lee 
4) Rodger McFarlane
5) Michael Petrelis 
6) Charles Stimson 
7) David Tuller

When the Wall Street 17 appeared before a judge a few weeks later, where the charges of disorderly conduct were dismissed, the judge was the late Richard Failla. He was a trailblazing jurist and at the time we went before him he was on the board of directors of GMHC. How's that for interesting homo history trivia?

A final point about what Bram wrote. The Lavender Hill Mob, named after the brilliant Alex Guiness film comedy, was not known as the Lavender Hill for short. We were referred to as the Mob, and damn proud of it!

I hope Bram and his publisher make the necessary corrections in future editions of "Eminent Outlaws".

No comments: