By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
For gay men here, everything pivots on the problem of health care — a burning issue for gay and straight, HIV-positive and -negative alike. It’s the ‰ number-one concern for that most controversial of AIDS activists, Michael Petrelis, the San Francisco–based firebrand whose vocal displeasure with complacent public officials led to his incarceration for some of his more harassing campaigns.
“I’d say it’s the most important thing,” says Petrelis, who has been HIV-positive since 1985. “I discovered last fall, when I was sick with some infection, on top of the AIDS cocktail I take daily I had to take new drugs. I didn’t know that California’s Medi-Cal had a limit on the number of drugs anyone can get on Medi-Cal. I had to make appeals to Sacramento to get these additional drugs on top of the cocktail that I take — some of which is paid for by the state, some of which is paid for by federal programs. But it was quite a shock when I was in Safeway, at the pharmacy, and they said, ‘Michael, we can’t fill these prescriptions, because you’ve reached your monthly limit. You have to file an appeal.’ I filed the appeal, and eventually they did give me the drugs.
“One of the drugs I take is Kaletra, which has to be refrigerated,” Petrelis continues. “What if you’re living on the streets of the Tenderloin because you can’t get a rental subsidy to keep an apartment, and the doctor gives you Kaletra — how do you keep it? I mean that kind of basic question is being asked in, what is it, year 23 of this epidemic? In San Francisco?”
And that in turn leads to the other factor that upsets Petrelis — that the history of the AIDS epidemic is slipping away from public memory. The passing of Ronald Reagan, whose inaction on AIDS spurred activists’ fury, briefly brought the topic to light on the public stage in ways that frustrate Petrelis.
“I could care less about all this talk about when he finally said ‘AIDS.’ He didn’t take any action. So he is going to be remembered for saying ‘Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.’ How come he didn’t say ‘America, pay attention to AIDS’? At least some good came out of all that canonization of Reagan in the mainstream media. You saw things about AIDS. But, my God, the push we had to make — Sean Strub, Larry Kramer and others — to say to the press, ‘What about criticism of Reagan?’ It was like a monumental task. For me it was good to remember the horribleness of the ’80s. But it is not over, there’s stillnot enough action.”
And as far as Michael Mayer is concerned, we can’t count on art to inspire action as we once did. “I think The Normal Heart is truly one of the great plays of our time,” he says simply. “It’s a fantastic piece of writing, and I think Larry is a real hero.”
So do we need a Normal Heart for the new century? A new Larry? Surely the latter, but Mayer’s not so sure about the former.
“There’s something about what the theater is trying to do now that’s . . . confusing to people. I don’t think that audiences are feeling the same way about it. I don’t think people are turning to the theater to get any of their political or social function as a society. People are going much more than they used to for spectacle and movie stars. Not politics. Not AIDS.”
And on we snooze . . .