Elizabeth Taylor — a great and courageous ally, friend and champion — has passed and we stop for a moment today to honor her courage and activism on behalf of so many of us.
When she first began speaking out about HIV/AIDS in the early 1980s, there was still a great deal of mystery, fear and stigma surrounding the disease. She was the first really big celebrity to use her fame to advocate for better public health policy, and to raise funds for HIV/AIDS treatment, services and research.
While she started local, appearing at the first major AIDS benefit for AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA), in 1985 she joined forces with Dr. Mathilde Krim and went on to become the founding international chairperson of the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amFAR).
It was a time when thousands of people became devastatingly ill and died rapid and horrible deaths, and yet the silence from our government was deafening. In those dark times, Elizabeth Taylor used the light of her celebrity to draw mainstream media attention to the government’s failure to respond to the AIDS crisis. She boldly stood with us to urge public support for better treatment of people living with HIV/AIDS. In those days, before e-mail, texting, Facebook and Twitter, her voice had a powerful ripple effect that helped make the world more aware of this growing health crisis.
She took on the fight for a cure with a determined and focused passion. She traveled around the world – she spoke at conferences, visited with people with AIDS in hospital wards, testified before Congress to ensure support for the Ryan White CARE Act and addressed the General Assembly at the United Nations on World AIDS Day.
In addition to supporting the work of numerous HIV/AIDS organizations, in 1991 she established the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, with a focus on direct services for people living with HIV/AIDS throughout the world. Today her family requests that any memorial donations benefit that fund.
In looking back at her steadfast commitment in the fight against HIV/AIDS, some of her words are important reminders of the difference she made during her lifetime.
“So many people were frightened and doing so little about it and saying so little …. The silence was thunderous, and the only way to stop that is to speak out.”
“I’m not here in Washington to make people like me. I’m here to speak about a national scandal; a scandal of neglect, indifference and abandonment.”
In 1993, she was awarded a special humanitarian Oscar for her HIV/AIDS advocacy. As she received that award 18 years ago, she spoke words that are just as resonant today as they were then.
“I call upon you to draw from the depths of your being — to prove that we are a human race, to prove that our love outweighs our need to hate, that our compassion is more compelling than our need to blame.”
While we mourn her passing, and extend our sympathies to her family and friends, we know that her spirit will live on – not just in her many films, but in the hearts and minds of all those she touched as one of the most inspirational HIV/AIDS activists of our time. RIP Elizabeth Taylor, and thank you.