Today is the 75th birthday of the activist Bill Kraus. If Sir Ian McKellen plays you in a movie, you have done life right. 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 and still feels the loss that he has left.
NAME: William James “Bill” Kraus
DATE OF BIRTH: June 26, 1947
PLACE OF BIRTH: Fort Mitchell, KY
DATE OF DEATH: January 11, 1986
PLACE OF DEATH: San Francisco, CA
BEST KNOWN FOR: Bill Kraus was an American gay-rights and AIDS activist as well as a congressional aide who served as liaison between the San Francisco gay community and its two successive US Representatives in the early 1980s.
Born in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, Kraus was a 1965 graduate of St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, Ohio. He attended Dartmouth College for a semester and then Ohio State University from which he graduated with a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history. He went on to become an aide to U.S. Representatives Phillip and Sala Burton.
Kraus moved to San Francisco in 1976 where he learned to practice politics from Castro Street camera store owner and later City Supervisor Harvey Milk, who was among the first openly gay elected officials in the United States. After Milk’s assassination in 1978, he helped Harry Britt to be elected as Milk’s successor on the City Council. Kraus later became president of the Harvey Milk Democratic Club.
Bill Kraus accepted a job as liaison to the gay community for US 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 AIDS epidemic. Through the Harvey Milk Democratic Club, Kraus conducted a “safe-sex” campaign, attempting to bring awareness to the gay community of the dangers of unsafe sexual practices. 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, Bill Kraus was himself diagnosed with the disease 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 the age of 38.
Kraus appears in the 1984 documentary film The Times of Harvey Milk. He was also a central person in Randy Shilts’ book And the Band Played On in 1987. In 1993, the book was later adapted into an HBO film, with Sir Ian McKellen playing Kraus. The film dramatized, with some artistic license, both the book and real events in the life of Bill Kraus.