Friday, April 29, 2016

AIDS activist, author Larry Kramer wants gays to have their true place in history

Mugdha Gurram /
Larry Kramer speaks at The Mark Twain House & Museum recently with Shawn Lang, deputy director of AIDS Connecticut.
By Mugdha Gurram
Senior Reporter
HARTFORD, Connecticut, U.S.A. – "We have been here since the very beginning,” said Larry Kramer about gay people in America, but added, “From the very beginning, we were not wanted."
Speaking at the Mark Twain House in Hartford recently, the 80-year-old author and activist asked, "How can such a growing population be ignored for so many centuries?"
Kramer, a founder of Gay Men’s Health Crisis and ACT UP – two early organizations fighting for help for people stricken with AIDS – is an award-winning playwright and novelist.
With his latest book, The American People: Volume 1: Search for My Heart: A Novel, Kramer aims to fill in the role of gays in American history.
“I wanted to somehow write a history of America,” he said. “I wanted to tell the world, somehow, not only about me, but all the gay people who have been here.”
While he prefers to think of it as a real history book, his work is being marketed as a novel, due to the controversial nature of some of his claims, such as that President George Washington had a secret affair with founding father Alexander Hamilton.
Kramer also included Mark Twain as a “late addition” to his novel, crediting him with writing Huckleberry Finn, which Kramer labeled “the first gay novel.”
"Not only was he gay, he was flamboyantly gay,” Kramer said about Twain.
“I believe that all these people I wrote about were gay,” said Kramer in defense of his book. When people ask if he can prove it, the writer simply asks in return, “Can you prove I’m wrong?”
Mugdha Gurram /
Shawn Lang and Larry Kramer
Kramer also spoke on his years as an activist fighting for the right to AIDS treatment, saying that AIDS medicine exists today because of the work of activists, not the government or the National Institute of Health.
Kramer and others involved in ACT UP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power,) took it upon themselves to become educated and advocate for treatment.
"We were all terrified of dying at that point and it brought out such a sense of togetherness.”
It is this unity that is missing in today’s activism, said Kramer.
"We're not a very united population. We're not connected with each other as a whole,” he said.
"We're a big population and we've seen quite recently that we can exert that power," said Kramer, referring to the right to same-sex marriage granted just last year. "Unfortunately activism is a seven days a week job. Most gay people aren't interested in plugging into any activist kind of activity."
The United States needs to be a leader in terms of gay rights and finding a treatment for AIDS, said Kramer. "This is the country that put a man on the moon … it can do a lot of things when it wants to."
The activist movement in America, he said, still has “a lot of work to do.”
Meanwhile Kramer is still keeping up his work, writing another play and planning a sequel for his award-winning play “The Normal Heart,” which tells the story of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s.
"What keeps me going today? Anger,” said Kramer, calling it the “the best motivator” he knows.
“I can't walk down the street with my boyfriend, now husband, without someone calling us a name or throwing something at us."
But Kramer said despite all the hardship, there is still a fight left to win. "You just have to somehow hold onto hope."
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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Teen shares excitement of being up front at presidential campaign rallies
YJI reporter Justin Hern with Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is running for the Republican nomination for U.S. president. Kasich was at a campaign event in Glastonbury, Connecticut last week.

By Justin Hern
Junior Reporter
WEST HARTFORD, Connecticut, U.S.A. – It’s primary season here in Connecticut. With an important election coming up, many candidates have come to the Nutmeg State to give their reasons as to why they should be elected president.
Connecticut voters go to the polls today, April 26, to cast ballots in the presidential primary. Within the past week, I attended nearby events for both a Democratic candidate and a Republican candidate. On Friday, I attended a town hall for Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican candidate, in Glastonbury.
Justin Hern /
Kasich's "national debt clock" on display at his rally.
On Monday in Hartford, I saw former President Bill Clinton speak at a campaign event for his wife, Hillary Clinton, a former U.S. secretary of state who is hoping to be the Democratic nominee for president.
Kasich led his own rally, while Clinton had supporters speak on her behalf. Besides the former president, Gabby Giffords, a former Arizona congresswoman spoke, along with Giffords’ astronaut husband Mark Kelly.

Justin Hern /
Former President Bill Clinton in Hartford.
First of all, by sheer numbers the two events were very different. The Kasich town hall was attended by roughly 1,300 people. The rally supporting Clinton was a much smaller event, perhaps due to lack of publicity.
Also, the Kasich event was much more casual. He told stories about his life, like how he met President Richard Nixon as a young man, and then answered questions from the crowd. He even danced to the song “Shut Up and Dance With Me” as he was coming out onto the stage.
Justin Hern /
Ohio Gov. John Kasich in
Glastonbury, Conn. last week.
At Clinton’s rally, President Clinton, Giffords, and Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, as well as other notable Clinton supporters mainly focused on the issue of gun violence. President Clinton also spoke at length about how his wife is knowledgeable and strong on many other issues. 
(Text continues beneath photos.)

Justin Hern /
Some of the crowd at the Kasich rally in Glastonbury, Connecticut last week.

Justin Hern /
Former U.S. Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly campaigning for Hillary Clinton in Hartford Monday.

Mugdha Gurram /
Vendors had these buttons for sale at the Bernie Sanders rally in New Haven on Sunday. 

Mugdha Gurram /
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders speaks to a large crowd on the New Haven Green Sunday night.

Kiernan Majerus-Collins /
Hillary Clinton hosting a panel discussion on gun violence last week in Hartford.

On the other hand, both events illustrated similarities by the diversity of the crowds in attendance. Each rally featured a mix of different ages, ranging from young, first-time voters to older, more experienced voters. Both of the featured speakers, Kasich and President Clinton, took the time to say hello to some of the crowd after the main event had concluded.
Justin Hern /
Former President Bill Clinton speaks at a campaign
event Monday in Hartford for his wife, Hillary Clinton.
I had the honor to meet both of these incredible men. One rarely gets the chance to meet a former president. Shaking hands with President Clinton was an honor that I will never forget. He has an aura of experience and authority about him and I found him to be a compelling speaker who truly believes in what his wife stands for in this election.
Kasich is a kind, intelligent, and likeable person, and I was very starstruck when I met him. I appreciated his repeating the idea that the election this year is not about Republican against Democrat, but rather Americans joining hands and working together.
This was my first time being on the campaign trail for any candidate, and it was truly a life-changing experience.
YJI reporter Justin Hern with President Bill Clinton behind him at an event for Hillary Clinton in Hartford on Monday.

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Sunday, April 24, 2016

Bernie Sanders Rallies Supporters at Yale

Mugdha Gurram /
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders addresses a crowd in New Haven, Conn. on Sunday night.
By Mugdha Gurram
Senior Reporter
NEW HAVEN, Connecticut, U.S.A. – “We are going to change our national priorities,” said presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders at a rally tonight.
Addressing an enthusiastic crowd of thousands on the New Haven Green, Sanders spoke on a variety of issues ranging from mental health to immigration. As he stood not far from the main campus of Yale University, he emphasized in particular the changes that needed to be made to the education system.
While New Haven is home to Yale, one of the world’s leading educational institutions, Sanders said the city is also home to many students who didn’t dare to dream of a college career. This situation, he said, is one that mirrors America as a whole.
“Education and learning is inherent in who we are as human beings,” said Sanders. “Why are we punishing millions of people for getting an education?”
Mugdha Gurram /
A throng of sign-waving supporters filled a set of bleachers behind the speaker's platform.
He mentioned many such issues in which he pushed for change, and implored his voters to push for such change as well.
“Real change never takes place from the top on down. It always takes place from the bottom on up,” said Sanders. “Don’t believe what the media or anyone else tells you. We can change the status quo.”
Mugdha Gurram /
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders speaking in New Haven, Connecticut Sunday.
Along with a large range of issues, Sanders also addressed a large number of demographics amongst his voters. “This campaign is listening to ordinary Americans,” he began. “This campaign is listening to young people.”
“This campaign is listening to our brothers and sisters in the African American community,” he said, also addressing “brothers and sisters in the Hispanic and Latino community” as well as “brothers and sisters in the Native American community.”
But, he said, “I can’t do this alone,” saying that victory depended on high voter turnout at polls in order to succeed in the Connecticut primary on Tuesday.
“I want to see this country become one of the most vibrant democracies where we have one of the highest voter turnout rates in the world.”

Mugdha Gurram /
Though homemade signs were prohibited at the rally, some still made it into the event.
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Thursday, April 14, 2016

Two years later, Nigerian girls still missing

By Gideon Arinze Chijioke
Junior Reporter
NSUKKA, Enugu State, Nigeria – It is two years today and the abducted Nigerian schoolgirls still remain missing.
The kidnapping of more than 250 girls from a secondary school in Chibok triggered international outrage.  The hashtag #bringbackourgirls started a campaign for their safe return and according to The Guardian newspaper, it was tweeted over a million times.
High profiles figures such as U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama, Pakistani education advocate Malala Yousafzai and even U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton tweeted to support the cause.
About 50 schoolgirls managed to escape, but more than 200 girls still remain missing, according to the BBC.
In Nigeria, while some officials have been suggesting that the missing girls are a hoax, others were checking into claims by a young girl that she was one of the kidnapped Chibok students.
Last month local and international media were awash with stories of teenage would-be suicide bomber who was arrested in Cameroon alongside an accomplice, a woman in her thirties.
BBC reported that the girl – whose body was strapped with explosives – was arrested in Limani by local self-defense forces.
A frequent target of bombings in recent times, Limani is situated on Cameroon’s northern border with Nigeria.
The girl claimed that she was one of the missing schoolgirls abducted by the terrorist group Boko Haram in the town of Chibok in the northeastern state of Borno on April 14, 2014.
In a statement on his Facebook page, Garba Shehu, the spokesman of President Muhammadu Buhari, said the Murtala Muhammed Foundation would partner with government and parents from Chibok to verify the identity of the girl.
The NGO later announced that the girl was not part of the missing schoolgirls, saying her photographs "do not fit the description of any of the missing daughters from Chibok,” Nigerian newspaper Vanguard reported.
According to Vanguard, the NGO’s chief Aisha Muhammed-Oyebode said the government had told her group that the girl identified herself as a 12-year-old who is originally from Bama – about 60km away from Maidugiri, the capital of Borno state in Nigeria. Bama was overrun by the insurgents last year. 
U.S. State Department
Some people believe that Boko Haram is using these schoolgirls alongside other girls they kidnapped to carry out bombings.
In truth, teenage girls have been committing most of the recent suicide bombings in north-eastern Nigeria.
The February attack on Dikwa camp about 85km northeast of Maiduguri lends credence to this belief. 
BBC’s Anne Soy recounted how three girls were sent to detonate their explosives at the Dikwa camp, which houses about 50,000 refugees. But one of the girls refused and escaped to tell her family and others in the camp of their plan.
But before she could get to the camp, the other girls had detonated their explosives, killing 58 people.
“I don’t know if the other girls knew they would die when they went on the mission,” the girl who escaped told Soy.
She also said she’d still like to get an education.
Amnesty International said that at least 2,000 women and girls have been abducted by the terrorist group since the start of 2014.
The terrorist group Boko Haram started its military operations in 2009. In the Hausa language, which is predominantly spoken in northern Nigeria, Boko Haram means, “western education is forbidden.”
Many Nigerians are less concerned with the Chibok girls than with politics or the economy. People talk less and less about them because the controversies surrounding their disappearance create doubts and many unanswered questions.
Some Nigerians feel that Buhari’s party, the All Progressive Congress, used the situation for their own advantage, especially as Buahri went on to defeat Nigerian former President Goodluck Jonathan.
Jonathan’s People’s Democratic Party had been at the helm since 1999.
Some people who share this belief think the Chibok issue is a hoax and a calculated attempt to belittle Jonathan’s leadership ability. More worrying is the belief that the opposition made up the story to gain nothing but political power.
Lending his voice to that theory, the governor of Ekiti state, Ayodele Fayose was quoted by The Punch newspaper saying: “I don’t know if there are missing girls but no indication has shown that. It is a political strategy, because I don’t think any girl is missing. If they are missing, let them find them.”
Jonathan, the former president, was criticized and characterized as weak and ineffective in rescuing the girls and addressing the insurgency.
Buhari, his successor, has promised to tackle the insurgency and find the schoolgirls.
Although Buhari had ordered an investigation into the kidnapping in January, he bluntly admitted that he had no information about the girls’ whereabouts.
The Nigerian military has raided the hideouts of the insurgents, destroying their camps and saving women and children kidnapped by the terrorists.
The government has continued to deny media reports that the terrorists are demanding a $50 million ransom to release the girls.

Editing by YJI’s Associate Editor Linus Okechukwu in Nsukka, Enugu State. 
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