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United in fear: AIDS scare mobilizes gay community

First published on April 24, 1983.

Larry Kramer, a Greenwich Village writer and homosexual, was nervous as he sat in the doctor's waiting room at the New York University Medical Center.

A mysterious disease was killing homosexuals in New York City - men who went to the same places and did the same things that he did - and Kramer wanted reassurance from his doctor that he was all right.

Sitting in the office, waiting to be seen by Dr. Alvin E. Friedman-Kien, Kramer flipped through Time magazine, but he could not concentrate. He knew that a gay friend, whom he had just run into by chance in the waiting room, was at that moment inside being examined by the doctor. Kramer's friend was also worried about the strange disease, having developed suspicious spots on his body and other symptoms similar to those of 20 other New York homosexuals who had the disease. Many of these men were already dead.

The door to Friedman-Kien's office opened and Kramer's friend walked out. The man was so frightened that he seemed to be in a daze. He looked at Kramer, started to say something, then shook his head and left. He had just been told that he had the disease.

Shaken by this, Kramer started asking questions as soon as he walked into the office to be examined. The doctor agreed that there was reason for concern.

"What we're seeing now is just the tip of the iceberg," Friedman-Kien said.

Kramer's examination turned up nothing unusual, but he was sent downstairs to the laboratory for blood tests, just to be sure.

There, in the laboratory waiting room, Kramer was shocked to discover a second friend. He, too, had just learned that he had the disease.

It was the start of a nightmare for Kramer. During the next 20 months Kramer's two friends, and 22 other close acquaintances, would die of the disease. So would hundreds of other young gay men across the country.

In those days the disease did not even have a name; only later would it become known as AIDS - acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

Paradoxically, the AIDS epidemic was also to provoke a remarkable movement in the homosexual subculture, a movement in which 500 gay men would join forces.

Out of their common fear would come a volunteer organization that would raise more than $200,000 in donations; obtain $225,000 more in city and state grants; publish the most definitive review of AIDS , a document now used as a reference in medical schools; establish emotional-support groups for AIDS victims and home-visiting teams for those too sick to leave their apartments, and fund medical research.

Among its other accomplishments, this group was to buy out Saturday night's performance of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus - all 17,601 seats - and use the circus as a fund-raising event. Discounting parades and demonstrations, the night at the circus is to be the biggest gay event of all time.

Many homosexuals see this organizational effort as having made a permanent change in their largely anonymous, unorganized community. In uniting against this lethal disease, they say, they have shown a numerical, financial and, potentially, a political strength that even they did not realize they had.

Kramer left NYU that day terrified and resolved to do something to fight this mysterious thing.

Slightly on the small side with short, graying hair and glasses that framed intense eyes, Kramer was a feisty man with the will and energy to fight for what he wanted.

As the author of Faggots, a novel that paints a brutally harsh picture of the hedonistic, sexually exhaustive life of some New York City gays, he was well-known and controversial among Greenwich Village homosexuals.

Kramer spent the next several days on the telephone and meeting with friends, and from all this talk there emerged plans for a meeting with Friedman-Kien, the doctor.

On Aug. 11, 1981, about 80 men, some of them well-known writers and artists, crowded into Kramer's Fifth Avenue apartment overlooking Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village.

Though it was a conventional, high-rise apartment, the living room was decorated to look more like an artist's studio, with a dark, carpeted platform in the center of the room, built-in bookshelves everywhere, swivel reading lamps in every conceivable place, a half-finished penciled mural on one wall and on another wall a German-language poster from the movie Women in Love, which Kramer wrote, and a long platform couch piled high with 24 brown, black and blue pillows.

The large room and the adjoining hallway leading to Kramer's workroom and bedroom were filled with gay men who had come to hear this doctor that Kramer had told them about.

With wine being freely dispensed, it looked more like a cocktail party than a meeting to discuss serious matters. All of this changed by the time Friedman-Kien finished presenting the disturbing data.

Friedman-Kien said many young men were dying. He said it was a strange disease that lowered the men's immunity, robbing them of the ability to fight off fungus and viral infections. In normal people the infections do not usually cause serious problems, Friedman-Kien said, but they can kill people who have the mystery disease.

What can you do to protect yourself from the disease, Friedman-Kien was asked. What causes it? How do you cure it? Friedman-Kien said no one knew the answers to these questions.

Preliminary studies by the Centers for Disease Control, the federal agency responsible for tracking epidemics, were showing a link with gay sexual activity, suggesting that the disease might be spread through close personal contact. Other studies suggested that drugs used by homosexuals to enhance orgasm and facilitate intercourse might predispose victims to the disease, but the data was scanty.

Friedman-Kien answered many questions about the research he was conducting. Then people started asking what could they do to fight this thing. They offered to do anything they could.

Two committees were formed - one to stage a benefit dance and another to conduct a fund-raising campaign in Fire Island on Long Island, a favorite spot for vacationing New York homosexuals. The season was ending and the Labor Day weekend, when everyone came out for one last big fling, should be a good time to raise money.

Everything was getting off to a good start. They asked for donations before everyone left Kramer's apartment that night and collected $6,635.

The homosexual community certainly had the potential to mount an effective campaign. Unlike many oppressed minorities, homosexuals as a group were rich in money, talent and power.

Their numbers were large - much larger than one would think, judging from the comparatively few effeminate men and masculine women seen in such tolerant urban areas as Greenwich Village in New York and Center City in Philadelphia. The United States' entire gay population is estimated to number 20 million people, including 13 percent of all adult males and 7 percent of all adult females. According to one study, only 15 percent of the male homosexuals surveyed had effeminate characteristics. Most others, to avoid persecution, lived and worked inconspicuously in all areas of society, invisible as homosexuals even to each other.

The homosexual community was also an unusually well-heeled and well-educated group. Being a largely invisible community, they are difficult to study as a group, but in 1980 the Los Angeles market-research firm of Walker and Struman surveyed the readership of the Advocate, the largest gay newspaper in America, and found that 36 percent earned more than $35,000 a year, 40 percent owned two or more cars, and 87 percent had full-time jobs. Another survey of 73,000 Advocate readers in 1977 concluded that the income of the average gay household was 50 percent higher than the national average and that 70 percent of the gay readers were college graduates. Still another study indicated that gays might control as much as 19 percent of the spendable income in America.

The demographers who did the Advocate studies conceded that all minorities have a vested interest in boosting their status when being surveyed, but they said that the data had been checked and that they believed it was accurate. But because the Advocate contains many serious articles, its readers probably are better educated and hence more affluent than the general homosexual population.

In any case, the homosexual community obviously had many powerful members. The question was, could Kramer and his associates arouse this sleeping giant to action?

Buoyed by the success of the meeting at his apartment, Kramer went to Fire Island to raise money with Paul Popham, a publishing executive who had lost friends to the disease.

It was the Labor Day weekend, and Kramer and Popham decided to conduct their fund-raising campaign at the Ice Palace, a popular gay discotheque that would be one of the busiest places on the island that weekend.

All night long, Kramer and Popham stood on the porch of the Ice Palace, donation cups in hand, trying to alert people to the danger that was threatening their community. But few of the gay men were interested. Some were simply too drunk or drugged to care about anything. Others were more interested in dancing or making out or reliving the adventures of the summer on the beach or anticipating the excitment of the coming season in New York City to think about a thing as dreary as the fatal disease.

Death was an incongruous thing in this world of young, tanned bodies, laughter and clever, witty conversation. By the time dawn arrived, a weary Kramer and Popham had collected only $126, and few of those who had come to the Ice Palace that night knew any more about AIDS than they had when they arrived.

Kramer returned to New York depressed and angry. He had always been known for his temper. Many homosexuals in New York disliked this in Kramer. They thought he spoke out too loudly and too often on too many issues. Many also disliked him for his book Faggots, which they felt inaccurately portrayed the homosexual community as being hedonistic and preoccupied with sex. Others thought he was much too impatient.

On this occasion, Kramer was incensed at the realization that no one really cared about an issue that had become so vitally important to him. He was angry at his fellow gays for not caring and for not being better organized as a minority group and for hiding and blending into the community when they should be standing up against an intolerant society.

Until recently there had never been much of a homosexual liberation movement in this country. The movement in America started only 14 years ago, with the so-called Stonewall Riots in New York City, when the police raided a popular homosexual bar of that name and the gays fought back. From that day forth, gays all over the country started marching out of their closets and down the cities' streets, carrying placards and yelling that they had had enough. From this came the National Gay Task Force, which now has 10,000 members.

Still, the majority of gays have stayed hidden in the closet, refusing to risk their jobs and comfortable lives. As a result, the gay community, especially in New York City, remained a weak social and political force.

Because of its invisibility, it was a difficult group to organize.

But Kramer and Popham hoped that the threat of a deadly, fast-spreading disease would force homosexuals to break their old patterns. They hoped for a strong response from the homosexual community.

Slowly, this did begin to happen as the number of AIDS cases continued to climb. Reports of more than one new case per day nationwide were being received by the Centers for Disease Control. About half the cases were in New York City.

By the spring of last year, there were twice as many AIDS victims as there had been when Kramer and Popham had first tried, so unsuccessfully, to get money from the people at the Ice Palace. Almost 300 had been stricken, and AIDS was becoming a primary topic of conversation in the gay bars and at parties.

In April, the newly formed Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC) put on ''Showers," the benefit dance that had been discussed for the first time at the Friedman-Kien presentation in Kramer's apartment. The party was a resounding success. Because the music, entertainment, liquor and facilities had all been donated, practically all the evening's proceeds went to the GMHC. All told, the GMHC netted more than $52,000.

"Showers" was followed by an elegant cocktail party - made possible by Larry Rivers, a well-known straight artist who donated the use of his luxurious summer home on the eastern end of Long Island - and this time $18,000 was collected.

Soon the GMHC was in the remarkable position of funding scientific research. It granted $22,000 to researchers at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York City to study the apparent predisposition of homosexuals to AIDS.

The GMHC was also putting out the most authoritative general reference to date on the new disease - a well-produced, 34-page pamphlet that described AIDS , reviewed the government's epidemiologic investigation, reviewed all AIDS research, listed the names and phone numbers of 45 physicians familiar with the new disease, and provided a bibliography of everything the GMHC could find on the subject of AIDS , which by the middle of 1982 included 31 research papers, eight stories in the general press and nine articles in gay publications.

Spurred on by the relentlessly rising death toll as AIDS spread through the Greenwich Village subculture, many gay men began to offer their services to the GMHC. A number of them had outstanding credentials.

Rodger McFarlane, an executive with a hospital planning firm, set up a telephone hot line, to answer the many medical questions that panicked gays were beginning to ask.

Dr. Lawrence Mass, a physician and journalist who wrote medical columns on gay-related issues, started writing AIDS stories that, although they were grimly accurate, still tended to counteract the wild rumors that were starting to spread and to panic people.

Robert Cecchi, a man of many trades, including carpentry, offered to do anything he could, including making periodic visits to the growing number of lonely and terrified AIDS patients in hospitals around town.

Philip Lanzaratta, who had both AIDS and Kaposi's sarcoma, a skin cancer that frequently hits gay AIDS victims, offered to share his experiences and positive outlook with newly stricken patients who did not know what to expect.

The GMHC was beginning to take hold, within the gay community at least, but Kramer was not satisfied. Except for the Centers for Disease Control, Kramer did not think anyone in government was particularly disturbed about the epidemic.

"We're sitting here with close on to 650 cases of this and 300 some deaths," Kramer declared angrily at one of the meetings last fall, "and nobody knows anything about it. "

Someone proposed getting performers and holding a benefit at Carnegie Hall or Radio City Music Hall. They checked this out, but it looked too difficult to get big-name performers and coordinate their schedules.

They met again, talked some more, and then someone proposed the circus. It was an idea that had been proposed earlier but had drawn little support.

Now the idea looked a lot more appealing. Buy out Madison Square Garden. Fill it with 17,000 gay men and women. Bring in thousands of people by bus from nearby cities. It would be the greatest gay show on earth.

They put the idea to Harry Diaz, who made his living arranging gay theater parties on Broadway. The largest theater Diaz had ever bought out had only 1,500 seats, but he had always wanted to do something really big like this. Filling Madison Square Garden would be some challenge. Diaz liked the idea.

By last fall, so many people had volunteered their services that another meeting had been arranged at Kramer's apartment. The goal was to organize these people into a group to deal with some of the unique problems confronting fatally ill homosexuals who were still in the closet. Though probably only months away from death, these young men could not seek help from their families, straight friends or employers for fear of giving away the secret that they were gay.

Many were isolated or utterly alone in hospital rooms or their apartments. Some were too sick to make meals or take care of their personal hygiene. Some AIDS victims needed help in getting to the hospital, or they needed someone to advise them on what to expect next from this awful disease.

The GMHC decided to build a three-tier network of psychiatric support groups, emergency intervention teams for patients in acute crisis and a buddy system of gay volunteers who would go into the homes of patients and do whatever needed to be done, whether it be housecleaning, cooking or just holding someone's hand.

Once again Kramer's apartment was filled with men sitting on the carpeted platform in the middle of the room and in rocking chairs and on the platform couch with all the pillows.

The group was addressed by Dr. Stuart Nichols, a gay psychiatrist associated with Beth Israel Hospital, who sat on the edge of the long couch and used his hands with gentle motions to emphasize the points he wanted to make.

"It is very draining to work with people who are dying," he said softly, studying the faces of the young men sitting on the floor in front of him and on the couch next to him.

"Be honest as to what you can do. You have to look inside yourself and see how much you can commit, because once you commit, you cannot withdraw. . . . Some of the people you get involved with are not going to do well. Some will die. You have to give a lot, but you need distance also. "

Almost every one in the room stared intently at the gentle psychiatrist, who spoke slowly and softly as though he were in direct, intimate conversation with each person in the room.

The only person who did not was a small, emaciated, balding man with fringes of red hair and a mustache. Only a few months earlier he had been a weight lifter and looked strong and healthy, but then he got AIDS . Now he was on the floor, too weak to sit up straight. His head rested in the lap of his lover, who stroked his arm as the psychiatrist spoke.

Nichols was followed by Phil Lanzaratta, an AIDS victim with Kaposi's. He had been living with the same lover for 16 years, but he also went frequently to the gay baths where he would have sex with several men on the same night.

Studies by the Centers for Disease Control showed that gay men with AIDS had sexual contact with an average of 60 different people each year, twice the average for comparable homosexuals who did not have AIDS , and that they went to the homosexual bath houses much more frequently than other gays. Bath houses, tea rooms and back-room bars were common meeting places for casual sex and orgies. The studies suggested that the mysterious disease might be passed through sexual contact with many different people.

"You'll question your lifestyle," Lanzaratta said. "God punished me, you'll say. I analyzed my life. And it was true that at certain times I was excessive. But what's too much for one person is not enough for another. A patient shouldn't feel he is being punished. Maybe he did wear down his system by living in the fast lane - too much drugs, too much sex. "

The former weight lifter was helped to his feet. He was too sick to stay in the meeting. People tried not to notice, but almost everyone watched the two men as they made their way through the crowded room. A few reassurances were spoken and then they were gone. Lanzaratta continued.

"I always try to keep a positive outlook," he said. "Many times I would be so depressed when I got home from work that I couldn't get in my front door fast enough so I could break down and cry. But it felt good to cry."

Some of the men in the room nodded. One smiled at Lanzaratta to show that he shared his feelings. There seemed to be a growing sense of camaraderie in the room.

Dressed in their most conservative business suits, Paul Popham and Harry Diaz arrived at the group sales office at Madison Square Garden and explained that they wanted to use the circus for a benefit.

Popham, the president of the GMHC, was the antithesis of Kramer. A quiet businessman who worked behind the scenes, Popham preferred negotiation to confrontation and was credited with having blended the disparate camps in the GMHC into a working organization. Such a calm, respectable man was considered by many to be the perfect choice to represent the GMHC at official meetings and at conferences where money and contracts were being discussed.

How many seats would the group be needing, the woman who worked in group sales at Madison Square Garden asked.

How many seats does Madison Square Garden have, Diaz asked. He explained that he wanted to reserve them all.

This was too much for the woman in group sales. She sent the two men to the circus' executive offices, where roughly the same conversation was repeated. Popham and Diaz explained that they wanted to buy out all the seats in Madison Square Garden, and that it had to be on a Saturday night so the out- of-town groups could make it into a weekend celebration. The plan was to make this the biggest gay event of all times, a statement to the world that the homosexual community was strong and united and could no longer be belittled and ignored.

The circus man was not convinced that they could accomplish all of that. No one group had ever bought out the circus at Madison Square Garden. The circus man would have to talk this over with others in his organization. A contract would have to be drawn up with certain stipulations, certain guarantees. He would get in touch with them shortly.

Popham and Diaz left.

A week later, the circus called back. The GMHC could have the night of April 30, but they would have to come up with $142,000 in advance.

Popham and Diaz agreed even though they would have to borrow $100,000.

Though Popham and Diaz felt confident that they could raise $100,000 in loans, they were not so sure they could sell all 17,601 seats in Madison Square Garden. Even Ringling Bros. had trouble doing that. It was difficult to predict the response of the homosexual community.

It was not until many weeks later, when the GMHC held a citywide AIDS meeting on Nov. 30, that they were even able to get a feeling for this.

Riding a wave of optimism, the GMHC had ambitiously arranged to hold the meeting in the auditorium of Julia Richmond High School in Manhattan, a huge space with 1,502 seats.

Still remembering the sad night on the porch of the Ice Palace, Kramer braced himself for another disappointment. Everyone Kramer spoke to was talking about the meeting, but were these people representative of the entire gay community? Maybe the GMHC was making contact with only a small subculture within the gay community, hardly enough to buy all those tickets.

Kramer did not stop worrying until the night of the meeting, when he arrived early. The place was mobbed.

People were everywhere. They were on the sidewalks and in the streets and crowded on the steps of the school, waiting to get through the doors. Afraid that they would be unable to get a seat, they had started arriving at 6 p.m., even though the meeting was scheduled to begin at 7:30.

Inside the building, the school lobby was filled with young men, many of them standing in lines at tables to put their names on the GMHC mailing list. Inside the auditorium, most of the seats in the orchestra were already filled and the overflow of people was being directed to the balcony seats. By 7:30, every seat in the auditorium was filled. Many men stood on the sides and at the back. Even with 1,502 seats, 300 people had to be turned away.

The evening started with doctors from the big medical centers showing slides and describing research that they hoped would find out what causes AIDS and how to prevent it. They told the audience what danger signs to look for and the few things that medical science was currently capable of doing for patients.

The most dramatic of all the talks was not given by a researcher, however, but by Dr. Ron Grossman, a private New York City physician who had a large gay practice and was himself gay. For several moments he looked at the men before him and smiled, as though to establish a relationship with them, and then he spoke:

"As a doctor, I feel helpless," he said. "As a gay man, I ask who of us will be next. "

Grossman pointed to the people sitting in the middle sections of the auditorium.

"Would everyone in this section of the audience stand up, please," he said. About 500 people stood up.

"Would everyone in this section of the audience stand up, please. " About 200 more people stood up.

"As of Nov. 15, 1982," Grossman said, "there were approximately 750 cases of AIDS in the United States of America," Grossman said. He pointed to the men standing in the audience.

"That's about 750 people," he said. "That is not a number. This is not a cold statistic. Turn around, guys, look. Seven hundred and fifty human beings have gotten this disease. Real people. Folks like you. Folks like me. " He paused as the standing men, some looking a little embarrassed, studied each other.

"Would this section sit down, please," Grossman said, and half of the men sat down.

"Of all the cases in the United States, this is how many are in New York City. " Once more he paused.

"Look again, please. Your neighbors, your friends, your lovers, your tricks. This many cases in New York City. Would about the last three rows in this section sit down, please. " A little less than 300 men were left standing now. Grossman's voice got quieter. He almost whispered.

"You know what's coming," he said. "In the United States of America, this is how many men - they are almost all gay, remember - have died of this disease. Look again, please. "

Grossman told everyone to sit down, and the audience applauded his demonstration.

Sexual freedom was an important part of being gay, Grossman conceded, but until the mystery of AIDS is solved, he urged everyone to become less promiscuous, to have fewer but emotionally more rewarding sexual encounters.

"The best advice," he said nearing the end of his talk, "is to stay out of the back-room bars, the balconies, the back-room bookstores, the tea rooms, the places where the person is represented just by something that comes through a hole in the wall . . . reduce the number of your sexual partners, and then try to make sure that the partners themselves have reduced their partners. "

Grossman became silent. The audience waited. He spoke again, but now he was imploring the men before him.

"Gentlemen, I make this plea and all of these pleas for the sake of the health of everyone who is present in this room, for the gigantic number of our gay brothers who are out there and not present now. ...

"I beg of you in the name and the memory of those who have died of this disease, who are my friends and your friends, for Dario, and Jim, and John, and Michael, and Larry, and Robert, and Manny especially, and for Geoffrey who died four weeks ago, and Larry who died two weeks ago, and for Richard who died just last week. "

Like so many other members of the GMHC, Kramer was being overwhelmed by the AIDS work and neglecting the rest of his life. He had not written a word for eight months, even though the prestigious New Yorker magazine had expressed interest in a novella he had submitted and had asked for a revised version.

"All of this is much more vital than anything I could ever write about," he said. "It just moves me. I just find the whole thing infinitely moving. "

Just before Christmas, Phil Lanzaratta let the GMHC use his huge loft apartment for a party to say thanks to the people who had contributed their time to the organization. More than 200 people attended.

They arrived singly and in pairs and in groups of three and four, carrying desserts and flowers as they rode the noisy freight elevator to the 10th floor. White balloons with red felt ribbons were everywhere, and carefully focused theatrical lights gave the big rooms with the black walls an exciting, sophisticated air. Even though most of these men had been brought together by a deadly disease, the mood was joyous and many of the men were talking about the circus.

About 8:30, someone shut off the sound system, everyone was shushed and Paul Popham addressed the group. Seeming a little embarrassed to stand before all these people, Popham thanked them for all they had done and told them that gay groups in Detroit had raised $7,000 to help the AIDS campaign. Popham introduced Diaz, who told the people that the pledges continued to roll in for the circus down payment. He predicted that the circus was going to be a resounding success.

The GMHC continued to grow during the following months. The number of volunteers climbed to more than 400. Grants started pouring in from several state and city agencies, reaching a total of about $225,000; they wanted the GMHC to provide a variety of services, mainly of an educational nature for patients and medical personnel.

Bob Cecchi was named adminstrative coordinator for group services, which was now running seven support groups to help AIDS victims as well as their lovers. The New York City health commissioner, Dr. David Sencer, set up an office for gay and lesbian health affairs, which in the beginning would focus primarily on AIDS . He hired AIDS researcher Dr. Roger Enlow, the doctor who frequently addressed GMHC meetings, to head the office.

Mitchell Cutler, a rare-book dealer, turned the buddy system he headed into a major service of the GMHC with 50 "buddies" visiting 30 patients. Some patients needed so many services that two or three different buddies had to share the work. One patient was too weak to cook, so buddies cooked meals for him and brought them in every day. Another AIDS victim needed to have his dog walked while he was in the hospital, and a third patient had to be helped to and from his clinic visits. Three buddies packed, moved and unpacked one AIDS victim who had to move to smaller quarters to save money. Cutler's group remained enthusiastic even though eight of its clients had died.

Things continued to look good as spring and the day for the circus approached. The GMHC had gotten 133 loans of $1,000, $33,000 more than was needed.

Tickets were selling briskly. Gay men from as far away as Japan and Australia had sent in mail orders. More than 1,000 gay men had chartered buses to bring them in from Philadelphia. Five volunteers were required to answer the constantly ringing telephones in the GMHC circus-ticket office.

More than $50,000 in advertisements in the circus program had been sold and Diaz was estimating that ticket and ad sales would net the GMHC more than a quarter of a million dollars.

This estimate did not include the thousands of dollars that would come in from the gay discotheques and bars around town that were turning the weekend into a long celebration, with a percentage of the proceeds going to the GMHC.

All of the excitement and success, however, tended to obscure the grim reason that all of this was happening. The number of AIDS cases was climbing at an alarming rate. By the end of March, the number was approaching 1,200, with almost 450 deaths. And still scientists had not determined the cause of AIDS or how to treat it.

Kramer was well aware of this, however, and outraged that more was not being done. He was so angry, in fact, that he wrote a 5,000-word article that attacked the federal and city governments for not doing more and threatened civil disobedience. He was particularly angry at Mayor Edward Koch, whom he accused of being "useless to his suffering constituents. "

The GMHC officers were so disturbed by the angry article that they insisted Kramer insert a paragraph, at the top of the story, making it clear that he was speaking for himself and not the organization.

Begrudgingly, Kramer agreed to this, and the article appeared last month in the New York Native, a gay newspaper.

"If this article doesn't scare the s- out of you we're in real trouble," the article began. "If this article doesn't rouse you to anger, fury, rage, and action, gay men may have no future on this earth. Our continued existence depends on just how angry you can get. "

Kramer went into great detail about how he had tried to set up a meeting with the mayor and how important recognition by the mayor was in bringing attention to the public and getting a response from state and federal agencies, including President Reagan. But, Kramer said, all attempts to reach the mayor had failed.

"The mayor of New York has an enormous amount of power - when he wants to use it. . . . With his silence on AIDS , the mayor of New York is helping to kill us. "

Last week, on the eve of the circus, the GMHC finally got its meeting with the mayor, who declared April "Aid AIDS Month. "

But the GMHC did not send Kramer. Instead it sent Popham and Mel Rosen, the organization's executive director. Kramer immediately resigned and the GMHC board immediately accepted his resignation.

He had become too much of an embarrassment for an organization that finally had grown important enough to be acknowledged by the establishment. Outspoken people like Kramer might be needed to get such organizations started, but there comes a time when the leadership finds them a liability.

At least that was Kramer's interpretation of events.

"I feel like a mother whose child has grown up and left her," Kramer said. He was angry, but he also sounded sad.

He had hoped the board of directors would refuse his resignation and invite him to the meeting with the mayor. On the night the board considered his resignation, Kramer stayed next to the phone. But when the call came, it was to tell him that his resignation had been accepted.

The long night was not a total waste. He used it to write the first 16 pages of a new novel, which he is calling City of Death. It will be about AIDS.

The circus is only six days away now. The GMHC says that a few $10 tickets are still available but that these will be gone before Saturday.

On Thursday, the computer in the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta printed out the weekly AIDS figures for the United States.

As of 10:48 a.m., April 21, the official count stood at:

Number of cases: 1,352.

Number of deaths: 512.