I feel a little tongue-tied when asked to say anything about Larry Kramer; partly because, while I know him, I don’t know him nearly as well or as long as some of my friends and colleagues. But mostly I think I get nervous because I believe Larry Kramer to be one of the most influential, important people for the gay community that has ever walked this earth and I worry I could never do him justice. And, honestly, I probably can’t, but I’ll say this:
I was so scared to meet Larry when I signed on to be a part of the Broadway production of “The Normal Heart” in 2011. I was gay, I was on a nationally televised sitcom, and I had never had my “big coming-out news story.” And here I was, about to be in a seminal work about the AIDS epidemic, written by one of THE leading activists from that moment in time, who believed that only by showing our faces, as gay people, did we stand the chance of gaining the respect and equality we desired and deserved. Larry spoke the language of change, while I was most comfortable saying “yes, ma’am” and “no, sir.” I was scared Larry would think me weak — or worse, that he’d find a way to force me on the cover of People magazine.
But that’s not how my experience turned out. Instead, Larry was not only exceedingly kind to me, but our production was a success that sent all of us all over New York that spring-into-summer season to a slew of awards shows that felt, in many ways, like a long celebration of Larry. Larry came to the theater as many nights as he could, in his traffic-cone-orange jacket to pass out informative flyers about HIV to theater-goers after our show let out. New York legalized same-sex marriage one night while we were doing the play, from the stage I heard men and women sobbing many evenings toward the end of the show and, often, I could not hold it in myself and I joined them. It all culminated in Larry on stage accepting a Tony award.
I was prepared that summer for Larry Kramer to slap me into being a “good gay,” but instead he, his play, and the people who feel a calling to be a part of his work and watch his work, all loved me into a change that has affected my life and career ever since. And I am but a tiny drop in an Earth-sized bucket-full of incredible change Larry Kramer fought for. As gay people, as humans, we have lost a fighter who was also a history-keeper (where he got the energy to do so much is beyond me), but we have surely gained a saint.
Jim Parsons is an Emmy and Golden Globe winner, best known for his role on “The Big Bang Theory.” He starred in the Broadway and film adaptations of “The Normal Heart.”