June 25, 1947 – William J. Kraus:
“Those who depend on television as their primary information source are condemned to …. A form of political illiteracy.“
If Sir Ian McKellen plays you in a film, your time in this incarnation must have been well-lived. Bill Kraus was a Gay Rights and HIV/AIDS activist, and a congressional aide who served as liaison between the San Francisco queer community and its two successive U.S. Representatives in the early 1980s.
His efforts to push for AIDS drug treatments and safer sex campaigns saved lives and helped bring light to those suffering with HIV. The world is a better place because he was in it.
Born in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, Kraus attended Dartmouth College for a semester and then Ohio State University where he graduated with a Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in History.
Kraus moved to San Francisco in 1976 where he learned all about politics from Castro Street camera store owner and later City Supervisor Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected officials in the United States. After Milk’s murder in 1978, Kraus helped Harry Britt to be elected as Milk’s successor on the City Council. Kraus later became president of the Harvey Milk Democratic Club.
Kraus accepted a job as liaison to the gay community for U.S. Congressman Phillip Burton and, after Burton’s death in 1983, to his widow Sala Burton who was elected to succeed her husband. Together, they worked on legislation to authorize funding to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Through the Harvey Milk Democratic Club, Kraus conducted a safe-sex campaign. Part of his campaign was to urge the closing of San Francisco’s gay bathhouses, a recommendation that was severely criticized by some in the city’s gay community who called Kraus a “sexual Nazi” for viewing the bathhouses as a problem.
After a relentless fight for Gay Rights and AIDS prevention, Kraus was diagnosed with AIDS in October 1984. He traveled to Paris to be treated with the drug HPA-23, believed at the time to boost the immune systems of AIDS patients. In Kraus’ case, it proved useless. He was in Paris when actor Rock Hudson arrived to pursue the same treatment. When it became clear the drug had failed, Kraus returned home to San Francisco where he died on January 11, 1986, at just 38 years old.
Kraus appears in the 1984 documentary film The Times of Harvey Milk (1984). He was a central character in Randy Shilts‘s book And The Band Played On (1987). In 1993, the book was adapted into an HBO film, with an all-star cast including McKellen playing Kraus.