Fight the power: Ron Goldberg's 'Boy With the Bullhorn'

  • by Jim Piechota
  • Saturday November 26, 2022
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author Ron Goldberg (photo: Joey Stamp)
author Ron Goldberg (photo: Joey Stamp)

In this new memoir, activist Ron Goldberg candidly and dramatically shares his experiences on the front lines of the ACT UP AIDS protest movements in New York City three and a half decades ago.

Beginning in the summer of 1987, the author recalls being drawn to ACT UP meetings through their notorious reputation for being "bold, angry, and —unlike the other AIDS groups— dedicated to confrontation, not care-giving."

Direct action on the release of lifesaving AIDS medications by the Food and Drug Administration as a result of ACT UP protests sealed the deal for Goldberg, and he immediately sought out gatherings and activist networks.

This new life was a far cry from his Jewish upbringing in the 1960s and '70s in Great Neck, Long Island when, as a boy, he felt a stirring after watching Bobby Sherman in "Here Comes the Brides!" Though he'd had girlfriends in high school, Goldberg also enjoyed dalliances with boys and, after coming out and graduating college, he moved to Manhattan to pursue an acting career.

His book intimately describes early influences by Larry Kramer (1935-2020), who angrily finger-pointed and wrote distressing alarmist dispatches about the mounting body counts from AIDS in local newspapers. As Goldberg's rage and fright mounted, the inactions of a homophobic government and the shameful indifference of medical establishments to the suffering of the queer population proceeded to exacerbate what would become a full-on global epidemic.

Goldberg's passion for activist participation soon graduated to the forefront of his life as he realized and fully embraced the heft of collective community movements and the social and political weight they carried.

He resonantly describes life for gay men in New York as "living under a pervasive cloud of dread" and the "low threatening hum in the background of everything we did." Every physical ailment, no matter how minor, could be a prognostication of something much more insidious.

"Was that a bruise or a lesion? A chest cold or pneumonia?" he writes of the palpable terror of contracting AIDS. "You could be fine one day and gasping for breath the next, your life suddenly measured in months, if not weeks."

Encounters with defiant police brigades, community heroes, and fellow activists commingle with the electrified atmosphere of frustration, sadness, fear, and defiance. Goldberg's dramatizations will provoke astonishment for new readers and a bittersweet sense of nostalgia for those who were actually there and found themselves fighting the good fight to stay alive while a cruel, deadly disease ran rampant (and ignored by those in power) throughout the community.

The book's images of "die-ins," "Silence = Death" signs, and street protests are nothing short of striking and graphically capture the significance of the timeless activist movement, a powerful and unique collective that has seen a resurgence of late and has incrementally increased in importance as the millennium marches forward.

This fine amalgam of memoir and queer history is constructive, emboldening, and necessary reading, and quite likely to inspire young queer readers to engage and participate in the enduring fight for LGBTQ equality and freedom.

Ron Goldberg will be appearing with fellow author K.M. Soehnlein (the ACT UP-themed novel, "Army of Lovers") in a joint reading event at The Green Arcade, 1680 Market Street, San Francisco, on World AIDS Day, Thursday, December 1, at 6:30pm.

'Boy with the Bullhorn' by Ron Goldberg, Empire State Editions/Fordham University Press, $36.95 hardback, $19.99 e-book, $24.49 audiobook.

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