Monday, October 31, 2016

'AIDS Plague' Book: 'Mobster' Petrelis vs NY Times Editor

Before there was ACT UP, there was the Lavender Hill Mob. A small and diverse grassroots affinity group, from 1985 through 1987, that put AIDS and queer issue on the political and media maps.

I was a proud member and now, a new book titled "How to Survive a Plague: The Inside Story of How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS," by journalist and filmmaker David France soon comes out and our advocacy is included in its pages.

From an Oscar-nominated documentary of the same name, to his latest book, David sure is milking the ACT UP archive and history.

Many queer writers, painters and artists, Ivy League academics and former activists turned nonprofit executives have profited from ACT UP's legacy, but David is the highest profile mainstream chronicler of the group.

He also has a development deal in the works for an ABC Network presentation of a dramatic adaption of his film.

A friend with a copy of the "How to Survive a Plague" book shared a photo of one passage where I'm mentioned, which I've keyed in.

The time frame is February 1987, one month after the Mob confronted a top editor of the Gray Lady a month before the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power began a crusade to save queer lives and make the world a better place.

Btw, I want an apology from the New York Times for prohibiting use of the words gay and lesbian until 1987. The moral and political costs of that prohibition have yet to be fully calculated. It's not too late for the paper to issue a mea culpa.

From "How to Survive a Plague":

"In the few days he had for planning, [ACT UP instigator and angry prophet Larry Kramer] called and visited key people in the city.

"One was Michael Petrelis, a leading member of the [Lavender Hill] Mob -- its youngest and perhaps its most shrill. A boxy man with curly hair sliced into a mullet, Petrelis had a voice that was as powerful as it was grating, and an outsized personality that him easy to admire but hard to love.

"The New York Native had taken to calling him 'an adamant and abrasive young man.'

"I first saw Petrels in the audience for a panel discussion where he attacked a New York Times editor for the paper's editorial ban on the words 'gay' and 'lesbian.'

"When the editor began to speak, Petrelis started bellowing, 'Call us gay! Call us gay!' over and over, until the event could no longer proceeed. Kramer needed him on his side."

I never had a mullet; just big hair back then. Happy to say I've kept the first issue of the Lavender Hill News, written by veteran activist Bill Bahlman, and share a snippet from his story about the zap against the New York Times editor.

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