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Anthony Fauci reflects on death of Larry Kramer: ‘He was truly an icon’

NIH director’s relationship with AIDS activist both friendly, antagonistic



From left, Dr. Anthony Fauci and Larry Kramer (Blade file photos by Michael Key and Doug Hinckle)

Dr. Anthony Fauci often had a combative relationship with Larry Kramer, but that didn’t stop the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases from fondly remembering on Wednesday the gay rights pioneer and AIDS activist upon news of his death.

“It’s a very sad day, not only for me, but for so many who have had the opportunity to interact with Larry since the very beginning of the HIV/AIDS era,” Fauci told the Washington Blade in an exclusive interview.

Although the two had a relationship that was at times friendly, other times antagonistic, Fauci said he and Kramer had conversations right up until his death, including at dinners, via email and “a lot of telephone calls, a lot of calls.”

It was in one of those phone calls a couple of weeks ago Fauci said he began to suspect Kramer’s passing would come soon. At the time, Fauci said he was calling Kramer to congratulate him on a new honor, calling it a “personal friendly thing.”

“He sounded extremely halting on the phone, barely able to get the words out,” Fauci said. “I said to myself when I hung up, ‘Gee, this is not good news. He’s getting very weak and frail.’”

Fauci acknowledged he was aware Kramer “was getting very fragile over the last several months” based on recent pictures of the HIV activist and previous phone conversations.

News of Kramer’s passing Wednesday, Fauci said, came to him via a text message earlier in the day from HIV activist Peter Staley, who urged Fauci to call him.

“It was very sad; we both were in tears on the phone,” Fauci said, becoming choked-up in his interview with the Blade.

Crediting Kramer with having an “amazing life, a full life,” Fauci recalled the late activist’s efforts in helping found ACT UP and the New York City-based Gay Men’s Health Crisis.

“He was truly an icon,” Fauci said. “He kind of forged the area, the role of the activist community and participating in the serious aspects of how you respond to a particular disease that afflicts individuals who are at risk, and actually already afflicted. And that’s Larry. I mean, that’s what Larry did.”

As a founder of ACT UP in the 1980s, Kramer helped lead protests against NIH to encourage the development of a cure to combat HIV/AIDS and distribute it to thousands of gay men dying from the disease across the United States.

One such protest was held at NIH on April 20, 1990. More than 1,000 demonstrators hoisted placards and shouted in bullhorns as they accused Fauci of taking insufficient action.

“I’ve had an interesting, unusual — and in some respects, wonderful — journey with Larry over the years,” Fauci conceded. “Since I was in his mind a representative of the government that he felt wasn’t moving quickly or well enough with HIV, we started off in somewhat of an adversarial role where he was attacking me for any number of reasons, and then as we got to know each other and realized that we both had a common goal that we shared, we became acquaintances, then friends, then really, really close friends.”

In the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, there was no treatment. Fauci took a lead role in the development in 1987 of AZT, or zidovudine, the first antiretroviral approved for the treatment of HIV, but that drug was limited in effectiveness and carried side effects.

It wasn’t until many years later in the 1990s — and many, many more protests from HIV activists — that more effective treatments became available against HIV/AIDS, which led to the availability today of Truvada as a prophylactic to prevent infection. Fauci has credited the gay community with having “incredible courage” in lifting stigma during the HIV/AIDS crisis to help the push forward for drugs available today.

Although Kramer had a reputation for being cantankerous and personally abrasive, Fauci said that was exactly what made him effective.

“He was very iconoclastic,” Fauci said. “He was theatrical. He was sometimes — not sometimes, but often times — rubs people very much the wrong way, but he got the attention that he needed to make the points that he wanted to make. So, you know, every once in a while, a giant among us passes, and I think this is one of those times when somebody who truly was a giant and an icon and a legend passes.”

Kramer wasn’t shy about antagonizing Fauci in recent years, publicly criticizing him for failing to develop a cure for HIV/AIDS. Nonetheless, Fauci said the two continued to be friends, although it was “a complicated relationship.”

“We gradually grew into a very deep and lasting friendship, and a friendship that he wasn’t afraid, even when we were at our very best and closest of still criticizing things that he didn’t think were the way he wanted to see me do things,” Fauci said. “So he wasn’t afraid to push back even at a time when we were close friends.”

Asked by the Blade what was Kramer’s most singularly important act in combatting HIV/AIDS, Fauci identified the late activist’s ability to “organize a group of young people.”

“He was outrageous in some respects, but he brought into his wing a group of young activists who took a very different approach, who took a very analytical approach, a very intellectual approach, a very academic approach,” Fauci said.

Fauci identified Staley, Mark Harrington, Gregg Gonsalves and David Barr as among the HIV activists who were associated with Kramer and “came under his wing.”

“He would shake the cages and they would go and get things done in their interaction,” Fauci said. “So, I think it was a combination of him breaking down the barriers between governments and the activist community but also adding a degree of impact…by training and mentoring young activists.”

Asked what he thinks epidemiologists can learn from Kramer, Fauci said the HIV activist’s teachings are more applicable to others.

“I’m not so sure epidemiologists can learn something,” Fauci said. “But I think people who are involved in response to outbreaks and then you have a disenfranchised community that’s unfortunately…the major target of a particular outbreak that you got to learn from Larry that people speak up and make their voice known even if they’re in some respects disenfranchised. That’s the lesson that Larry learned.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this misspelled the name of Gregg Gonsalves. The Blade regrets the error.

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$48 million earmarked for HRSA centers in effort to beat HIV/AIDS

“Community health centers are often a key point of entry to HIV prevention and treatment services, especially for underserved populations”



The Hubert H. Humphrey Building, HHS headquarters Washington D.C. (Photo Credit: U.S. GSA)

WASHINGTON – The Biden administration has awarded more than $48 million in allocations earmarked to medical centers under Health Resources & Services Administration in localities with high incidents of HIV infection as part of the initiative to beat the disease.

Xavier Becerra, U. S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, in a statement said that the contributions are key component of the initiative, which is called “Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S.” and seeks to reduce new infections by 90 percent by 2030.

“HHS-supported community health centers are often a key point of entry to HIV prevention and treatment services, especially for underserved populations,” Becerra said. “I am proud of the role they play in providing critical services to 1.2 million Americans living with HIV. Today’s awards will ensure equitable access to services free from stigma and discrimination, while advancing the Biden-Harris administration’s efforts to ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2025.”

The $48 million in government spending allocations went to HRSA centers 71 HRSA-supported health centers across 26 states, Puerto Rico and D.C. — areas identified with the highest rates of HIV infections — to expand HIV prevention and treatment services, including access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) as well as outreach and care coordination, according to HHS.

The Ending the HIV Epidemic was set up under the previous administration, which made PrEP a generic drug after an accelerated effort and set a goal of beating HIV by 2030. Biden has continued the project, after campaigning on beating HIV a full five years earlier in 2025. Observers, however, are skeptical he can meet that goal.

Diana Espinosa, acting administrator for the Health Resources and Services Administration, (HRSA) said in a statement the $48 million will go a long way in reaching goals to beat HIV/AIDS.

“We know our Health Center Program award recipients are well-positioned to advance the Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S. initiative, with a particular focus on facilitating access to PrEP, because of their integrated service delivery model,” Espinosa said. “By integrating HIV services into primary care, and providing essential enabling services like language access or case management, HRSA-supported health centers increase access to care and improve health outcomes for patients living with HIV.”

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Surviving Voices, “Substance Users, the Recovery Community & AIDS

The Surviving Voices storytelling initiative is being recognized for its powerful work in helping tell the story of AIDS



Surviving Voices is a program of the National AIDS Memorial (Photo Credit: NAM)

SAN FRANCISCO – The National AIDS Memorial Surviving Voices storytelling initiative is being recognized for its powerful work in helping tell the story of AIDS through the voices of survivors of the pandemic, now in its 40th year.

More than 700,000 U.S. lives have been lost since the first cases of AIDS were first reported in 1981. Today, more than 1.2 million people are living with HIV, with a disproportionate impact in communities of color and in southern U.S. states.

The Memorial has officially released its most recent mini-documentary, “Substance Users, the Recovery Community & AIDS” following exclusive screenings at two LGBTQ+ film festivals – Frameline45 and SF Queer Film Fest 2021.  The mini-documentary, along with deep dive personal interview segments with survivors and advocates, can be viewed on the Memorial’s website at

“The National AIDS Memorial is honored to have our Surviving Voices mini-documentary featured at these influential film festivals,” said Chief Executive John Cunningham. “It speaks to the important work our organization is doing to share these powerful personal stories of hope, resilience and the journey of survivors around the issue of HIV/AIDS and addiction in an authentic and powerful way.”

“Substance Users, the Recovery Community & AIDS” focuses the camera on the unique challenges of HIV/AIDS faced by this community. Through personal stories of survival, the film powerfully captures the journey of AIDS advocates and those of individual survivors living with HIV/AIDS who have struggled simultaneously with the disease of addiction, in raw, honest and forthright conversations.  It depicts their individual strength, power, hope and resilience, the importance of community, spirit, self-respect, and the will to live with dignity and pride.  It also shows their vulnerabilities, the shame, denial, stigma, and hopelessness they have experienced. 

As Queer Chaplain Bonnie Violet Quintana shares, “I can be as I am. Me getting HIV. Me being in recovery – all of that is a big part of Me.” 

The National AIDS Memorial’s Surviving Voices mini-documentaries are produced and directed by Jörg Fockele and funded through a grant by Chevron, a long-standing partner of the National AIDS Memorial. Community partners include the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, The Elizabeth Taylor 50-Plus Network, Stonewall Project and the Castro Country Club.

“We believe in the power of storytelling and the lessons it can teach current and future generations,” said Huma Abbasi, General Manager, Health & Medical at Chevron. “Our long-time support for Surviving Voices is part of our commitment to sharing the very human experiences that have shaped 40 years of the AIDS epidemic. At Chevron, our success is tied to the progress and prosperity of the communities where we operate. In line with the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, we believe that healthy, educated communities are critical to that success.”

Surviving Voices is a program of the National AIDS Memorial created to ensure the myriad stories and lessons of the epidemic are captured, curated, and retained for current and future generations.  “Substance Users, the Recovery Community & AIDS” is the sixth film produced in this multi-year oral history initiative, which also includes “The Transgender Community & AIDS,” “The A&PI Community & AIDS,” “Women & AIDS,” “The National Hemophilia Community & AIDS,” and “The San Francisco Leather Community & AIDS.”

“I hope that these mini-documentaries will be as inspiring for current and future generations confronting their own challenges as they were for us when we filmed them,” said Fockele.

Learn more about the Surviving Voices, the National AIDS Memorial, its mission, programs and how to provide support at

Surviving Voices Mini-Documentary: Substance Users, Recovery Community and AIDS:

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Governor Newsom signs HIV & Aging Act authored by Sen. John Laird

Sponsors of SB 258 include Equality California, AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA) Health, Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE)



Photo Credit: Office of the Governor of California

SACRAMENTO – On Friday Governor Gavin Newsom announced the signing of Senate Bill 258, the HIV & Aging Act, authored by Senator John Laird (D – Santa Cruz). Senate Bill 258 will ensure HIV+ seniors are included in the definition of “greatest social need”.

“When I was the Santa Cruz AIDS Agency Director in the 1980’s, it was our dream to have people living with HIV live into old age,” said Senator Laird. “To be very clear, this group was not supposed to age. Governor Newsom signing the HIV & Aging Act is a historic moment for the LGBTQ community, and all those who have been affected by the HIV crisis.”

With the recent advancements in HIV treatment, people with HIV can keep the virus suppressed and live long and healthy lives. For this reason, the number of HIV positive older people is increasing. According to a 2018 California HIV Surveillance Report published by the California Department of Public Health, over half of the people living with the virus in California are now aged 50 years or older. This same report shows that 15 percent of newly diagnosed patients were age 50 and older in that same year.

Sponsors of SB 258 include Equality California, AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA) Health, Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE), and the Los Angeles LGBT Center.

Sen. John Laird speaking at PRIDE with the LGBTQ Legislative Caucus June 2021 (Blade File Photo)

Equality California Legislative Director Tami A. Martin notes, “After surviving the darkest days of the AIDS epidemic, many Californians living with HIV are now over the age of 50, but in dire need of support. Thanks to Governor Newsom, Senator Laird and HIV advocates, the Golden State will now make sure that our elders living with HIV have access to food assistance, job training, transportation or any other vital services. We applaud Governor Gavin Newsom for signing the HIV & Aging Act into law, making California just the second state to ensure older Californians living with HIV don’t just continue to survive, but thrive.”

“Thanks to effective treatments, people with HIV are living longer than we could have ever imagined just a few decades ago and now a majority of people with HIV in California are over 50 years old. Unfortunately, our current health and social service systems are not yet prepared to address the unique needs of this population,” APLA Health Chief Executive Officer Craig E. Thompson said adding; “Many older people with HIV are long term survivors of the AIDS epidemic. They have lost countless loved ones and entire networks of social support. They also continue to face discrimination and alarming levels of stigma. We thank Senator Laird for his leadership on this historic bill to ensure that people aging with HIV have the resources and support they need to thrive and age with dignity.”

“We must ensure that LGBTQ seniors have the affirming care and support so they can age in peace with dignity,” stated Laird. “It’s incumbent upon us to not force individuals back into the closet for them to access adequate care. Once again, I’d like to applaud the Governor for his continued support of the LBGTQ community and to my colleagues for making this a priority bill.”

The HIV & Aging Act received unanimous bipartisan support through both chambers of the Legislature and is a legislative priority for the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus.

Senate Bill 258 will go into effect January 1, 2022.

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