Marking the 30th annual World AIDS Day event with a tribute to the woman who made us rethink everything about the disease. #WAD2018 #elizabethtaylor #HIV #AIDS
Back in what many of us HIV/AIDS activists call “the dark days”, there were more than a few people who believed that AIDS was a plague that was given to those who were considered decadent, undesirable and filthy: drug addicts, people of color, commercial sex workers and gays.
You see, unlike today, we honestly didn’t know how the disease was transmitted. Of course, that hasn’t stopped some from using stigma and shame tactics to continue to further a hateful, conservative agenda as a means to wage war on these same populations.
In 1985, former Hollywood heartthrob and gay man Rock Hudson revealed that he was dying of AIDS. Instead of boo-hooing the entire thing, thinking how sad it was and ignoring him altogether, as many gay men faced during the early years of the crisis, an old friend came to his side and decided to speak her mind about a few things to the public.
That woman, of course, was Elizabeth Taylor. A former child star, winner of two Academy Awards for Best Actress and often in the tabloid headlines, she used her considerable celebrity after her film career was essentially over to devote herself to a cause that many considered taboo.
After her friend’s death, she devoted herself tirelessly to the cause of educating others about the disease. In 1991, Taylor founded the AIDS foundation that bears her name. Initial funding for the project came from sales of her perfume, White Diamonds, which, some almost three decades later, is still the best-selling celebrity fragrance in history. Sales of her many other perfumes still fund the charity, seven years after Taylor’s death.
She was also the foundation’s chairman, and never took a dime for her work on behalf of the charity. Her children now run the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, which, to date, has given grants to over 675 organizations in 44 countries. In the U.S., grants have been given to orgs in 42 of our 50 states. And, unlike President Trump, financials are easy-to-find and accessible to the general public, so you know where your donations go.
We could sit here all day and wonder how long it might have taken the general public to understand what HIV/AIDS was all about and would we still be ignorant about it. Or, we can take a moment and thank Ms. Taylor for being a singular voice that cut through the crap and told it like it was.
It was classic Liz: Bold, fun, over the top, glamourous and there when you needed her.
This, of course, didn’t mean it was all doom and gloom. Check out this vintage White Diamonds commercial where she acknowledges her star power, all the while running around in a dirty, dusty locale in a flawless white couture dress and coming to someone’s rescue, literally out of nowhere. (And looking mighty fine at the age of 59, showing off her beautiful Rubenesque figure.) It was classic Liz: Bold, fun, over the top, glamourous and there when you needed her.
It’s easy for me to say thank you Liz as a lifelong fan and gay man with HIV who came of age in the 1980’s. I should know: she had me at Lassie Come Home. But she did so much more, and this tribute could never express “all of the things”. If her children or grandchildren happen across this, know your Mom and Grandma was so much more than just a movie star to millions in dispossessed populations, but you probably already know that.
Fight AIDS. Not people with AIDS.
Love to you all.
Ben Brown Jr., owner