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How I knew Elizabeth Taylor

AIDS

By Adam Bink

I’m a little too young to really know Elizabeth Taylor and what she represented in the entertainment and celebrity world. I knew about her husbands and her acting career, but it didn’t interest me. All I really know about her is what I first read in Randy Shilts’ magnum opus chronicling the beginnings of the AIDS epidemic, titled And the Band Played On (excerpt hand-typed here):

Just a few days from now would mark the sixth anniversary of the publication of Michael Gottlieb’s article on the mysterious cases of Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia in five Los Angeles gay men. Six years ago, Gottlieb had been an eager young immunologist in his first months at UCLA. Now, he was a co-chair of a foundation hosting a dinner at which the President and First Lady were the guests of honor. On Gottlieb’s arm was a famous movie star, and senators and congressmen crowded the restaurant, enjoying cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. AIDS was so respectable, Gottlieb could scarcely believe it.

Gottlieb knew that much of the success of both the evening and the foundation was the work of his escort, actress Elizabeth Taylor. Taylor’s interest in AIDS had been building before it became a fashionable Hollywood cause, back when Gottlieb was discussing his plans for a national fund-raising AIDS group with Dr. Mathilde Krim of the AIDS Medical Foundation in New York City. In the last months of his life, Gottlieb’s most famous patient, Rock Hudson, had launched the American Foundation for AIDS Research, or AmFAR, with a $250,000 contribution, and Taylor had agreed to become the group’s national chair, giving the epidemic the star power it had long lacked.

Frankly, it was all I needed to know. Taylor did this back when AIDS was still known as “gay cancer” and no one would touch it. Her fundraising work continued long after that Georgetown event. The Whitman-Walker Clinic here in DC, which provides AIDS counseling and free HIV testing — which I, as a young gay man, had taken advantage of personally — probably would not exist without Elizabeth Taylor’s pioneering. In fact, the Center around the corner from my apartment is named “The Elizabeth Taylor Center”.

I never knew the other side of Elizabeth Taylor’s life, but from what I did know about her, if we had a hundred Elizabeth Taylors and their courage back in the early 1980s, a lot more people would still be alive today.

More coverage from P8TT friend and longtime reporter on the epidemic, Karen Ocamb, can found here.

Update: Jeremy found a great news clip from that era.

51 Comments Leave a Comment

  • 1. Ronnie  |  March 23, 2011 at 2:55 am

    ‎"I feel very adventurous. There are so many doors to be opened, and I'm not afraid to look behind them." ~ Dame Elizabeth Taylor……RIP….

    Here is a video tribute to Dame Taylor from AmfAR……<3…Ronnie:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oBLlTBWhEuI&fe

  • 2. Richard A. Jernigan  |  March 23, 2011 at 3:09 am

    I remember the keytags that my ex and I received when we would go up to DC for the Pride festivities. They were from the Whitman-Walker clinic, and we received them in a bag of goodies that included AIDS prevention T-Shirts, pens, and other reminders to use a condom. And yes, the keytags were made with a case that would hold a condom securely. W-W Clinic does some great work. LaLiz, you will surely be missed!

  • 3. Richard A. Jernigan  |  March 23, 2011 at 3:18 am

    And here, from another of our allies, a song that while slightly OT, was the first song about AIDS to address the issue of its horrific spread in the heterosexual community.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ztrf3tXGz40

  • 4. Gregory in Salt Lake  |  March 23, 2011 at 3:22 am

    thanks for the video Ronnie : ) It is a shocking reminder how far we have come. I recall Elizabeth Taylor getting death threats and very hateful comments directed toward her for her activism. I marvel again and her gutsy involvement…and causes me to be extraordinarily grateful of compatibly easy it is to live as a gay man compared to those times of mass fear/hate/ignorance of gay persons. I never fear for my life…just get annoyed at looks and comments mostly….a HUGE change from 20-30 years ago! p.s. much emotions here reminiscing about ET….I loved her always from the first time saw National Velvet…one of my all-time favorite movies.

  • 5. Sagesse  |  March 23, 2011 at 3:33 am

    I remember those days, but sometimes lose sight of how much time has passed, and how different things were then. ET received an Oscar for her HIV-AIDES related philanthropy in 1993.

  • 6. Sagesse  |  March 23, 2011 at 3:34 am

    I remember those days, but sometimes lose sight of how much time has passed, and how different things were then. ET received an Oscar for her HIV-AIDS related philanthropy in 1993.

  • 7. Ed  |  March 23, 2011 at 3:46 am

    OT, but good news in CO….
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/23/colorado

  • 8. Kathleen  |  March 23, 2011 at 3:52 am

    And some bad news from Texas – as though things aren't bad enough there already…

    Anyone here from TX who can offer local perspective? Is this likely to pass? What can be done to stop it?

    Transgender Marriage Rights Under Attack in Texas http://planetransgender.blogspot.com/2011/03/tran

  • 9. Peterplumber  |  March 23, 2011 at 4:02 am

    DAMMIT
    9th CA has just ruled on the appeal to lift the stay.
    The stay stays.

  • 10. Peterplumber  |  March 23, 2011 at 4:03 am

    Before: REINHARDT, HAWKINS, and N.R. SMITH, Circuit Judges.
    Having considered all of the factors set forth in Nken v. Holder, 129 S. Ct.
    1749, 1756 (2009), and all of the facts and circumstances surrounding Plaintiffs’
    motion to vacate the stay pending appeal, as well as the standard for vacatur set
    forth in Southeast Alaska Conservation Council v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,
    472 F.3d 1097, 1101 (9th Cir. 2006), we deny Plaintiffs’ motion at this time.

  • 11. Kevin  |  March 23, 2011 at 4:04 am

    π motion for vacatur of stay denied.

  • 12. James Tuttle  |  March 23, 2011 at 4:06 am

    That was a very nice post. She was a true pioneer in the fight against AIDS and I can't imagine what courage it took to stand up against SOO many powerful people when the disease was first being discovered and nobody wanted to even think about the topic, let alone fight for those who had it. I have not ever watched a movie Taylor was in but i believe it is time I do so.

  • 13. Gregory in Salt Lake  |  March 23, 2011 at 4:06 am

    ARGGGGGgggg….makes you wondering if someone like this has anything better to focus energy and attention instead of trying to divide us all into 2 gender catagories : (

    Senate Bill 723 would disallow proof of sex change as appropriate documentation for marriage.

  • 14. James Tuttle  |  March 23, 2011 at 4:07 am

    OH no..that really sucks. My heart just broke a little.

  • 15. Kathleen  |  March 23, 2011 at 4:14 am

    UPDATE: Perry

    Motion to lift stay denied: http://www.scribd.com/doc/51401418

    Heartbreaking. :(

  • 16. James Tuttle  |  March 23, 2011 at 4:14 am

    I was all ready to get married too. But now I'm just thinking about Ed and his fiancee'. This is truly heartbreaking for them.

  • 17. Richard A. Jernigan  |  March 23, 2011 at 4:18 am

    What are the cases they are referring to in the order, and how do they affect the motion for vacature of the stay? I mean, what is it about those cases that cause them to hinge on this one? And can the denial of the vacature of the stay be appealed to SCOTUS?

  • 18. Gregory in Salt Lake  |  March 23, 2011 at 4:19 am

    tx for posting ….. so dumb …… have hope this will speed up trial proceedings…need to go somewhere and vent : (

  • 19. Mark M (Seattle)  |  March 23, 2011 at 4:21 am

    Start with "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolfe" or "Cleopatra" the best of the best Liz gave us
    IMHO

  • 20. James Tuttle  |  March 23, 2011 at 4:23 am

    I hate to be a pessimist but there is NO WAY the SCOTUS is going to vacate the stay.

  • 21. Ed  |  March 23, 2011 at 4:29 am

    And we all know NOM is going to revel in this :((

  • 22. Kathleen  |  March 23, 2011 at 5:34 am

    I would add Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Butterfield 8

  • 23. Jon  |  March 23, 2011 at 5:37 am

    There are people alive today who would not be without her courage and support in the fight against this disease. It's that simple.

  • 24. Richard A. Jernigan  |  March 23, 2011 at 5:42 am

    And let's not forget National Velvet. I hope this means that Liz and the horse from National Velvet have been reunited and that she is riding again, this time without pain!

  • 25. Rhie  |  March 23, 2011 at 6:52 am

    Watching

  • 26. 415kathleenk  |  March 23, 2011 at 7:53 am

    Liz was one of a kind, I have been a big fan since i was kid and saw her pictures in life magazine. She was rightfully lauded by the LGBT community when she helped launch AmFAR in 1985! Sheesh was that really 25 years ago? I feel old….

  • 27. Michelle Evans  |  March 23, 2011 at 8:45 am

    The story of Elizabeth Taylor and her early support of AIDS awareness and funding, can be traced directly to her long friendship with Rock Hudson. And this also shows how important our coming out to people we know truly makes a difference. Harvey Milk absolutely nailed it in this case. When people know people who are LGBT, it is a much less likely thing that they would vote to take away our rights and our lives.

    If Taylor had not know Hudson, maybe she still would have done what she did so early, but I believe otherwise. When something like AIDS and marriage equality directly harm people you are close to, you rise up and cry foul. That's what she did, and that's what so many of our straight allies have done for all things LGBT–even when it would be much easier to just stand on the sidelines and not say a thing.

    A HUGE thank you to all our straight allies!!!!

  • 28. JonT  |  March 23, 2011 at 9:18 am

    Disappointing, but not surprising :(

  • 29. Sagesse  |  March 23, 2011 at 9:43 am

    I think the Hollywood community was more knowledgeable and more comfortable with homosexuality than anyone knows. Liz Taylor was also close to Montgomery Clift, who was gay, and Doris Day, among others was a close friend of Rock Hudson. Taylor's leadership was ahead of its time.

  • 30. Ginger  |  March 23, 2011 at 9:52 am

    While people are writing suggestions for which Elizabeth Taylor movies to watch, I want to put in a plug for the book Adam mentioned in his post:

    _And the Band Played On_ by Randy Shilts is an amazing chronicle of the emergence of AIDS and the people who were involved (scientists, public health workers, activists, patients, organizers) and those who weren't (cough, cough, REAGAN, the Red Cross, cough, cough). I think it is especially illuminating for people (like me) who are not old enough to actually remember the early to mid 1980's.

    The HBO movie version – available on Netflix – is also amazing and extremely moving (staring Lilly Tomlin, Alan Alda, Matthew Modine, Ian McKellan, Richard Gere, Steve Martin, B.D. Wong… plus tons of fantastic archival footage of press conferences, etc.).

  • 31. Kathleen  |  March 23, 2011 at 10:02 am

    I concur with the recommendations for both – the book and the move.

  • 32. Bob  |  March 23, 2011 at 10:03 am

    Liz Taylor, our hero,, she forever changed the lives of all of us living with AIDS,,, and at a time of neglect gave hope to those who died,,,,,

    during the dark ages of the epidemic, she shone the light , on the truth,,,,,

  • 33. Sagesse  |  March 23, 2011 at 10:21 am

    Didn't read the book, but the HBO movie is outstanding. It'sa historically accurate recreation of a time that we didn't fully understand while it was happening.

  • 34. tomato  |  March 23, 2011 at 11:38 am

    She was also very close friends with Roddy McDowall. They both came to the US at the same time as children. Having a friend you'd known since childhood who was gay had to have a strong influence.

    "Come out, come out, where-ever you are."

  • 35. Peterplumber  |  March 23, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    Westboro Baptist Church plans on protesting at Elizabeth Taylor's funeral
    http://newsfeed.time.com/2011/03/23/westboro-bapt

  • 36. Sagesse  |  March 23, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    Picturing all the security money can buy, throngs of loyal fans and a police presence. The Phelps clan won't get very close.

  • 37. Richard A. Jernigan  |  March 23, 2011 at 2:37 pm

    Liz Taylor also helped protect Monty Clift at a time when the open knowledge of his bisexuality would have killed his acting career. As it was, his drinking did that for him, but LIz stood by him through all of it. Liz has been an ally of ours longer than most people realize. You will be missed, Ms. Taylor. I truly hope you and National Velvet have been reunited and that you are enjoying horseback riding once more.

  • 38. Richard A. Jernigan  |  March 23, 2011 at 2:59 pm

    I will check out the movie once I can bring myself to re-read the book. That may be a few months though. I lost too many friends during the early years of the HIV crisis, and the book has never been easy for me to read.

  • 39. fiona64  |  March 24, 2011 at 3:46 am

    God, I still remember those early days. I'm an old bat, y'all. My best gal-pal at the time was on an ICU clinical nursing rotation in college, and she knew I was particularly close to a couple of gay guys. She came over and told me to please talk to them, and I'll never forget her words: "There is something awful out there killing gay men, and no one really knows what it is or why. Please tell your friends to be careful about their partners; that's the only thing we can figure out right now."

    Obviously, we know more nowadays … and those early days wherein a diagnosis automatically meant that someone's days were numbered in hospice seem to be so far away.

    Bless Elizabeth Taylor and everyone else for their work to bring attention to HIV/AIDS.

    I know I rambled; please forgive.

    Love,
    Fiona

  • 40. fiona64  |  March 24, 2011 at 3:48 am

    And "Taming of the Shrew"; she was brilliant as Kate.

    Love,
    Fiona

  • 41. fiona64  |  March 24, 2011 at 3:50 am

    I never read it again after the first go-round, for just the same reason.

    Love,
    Fiona

  • 42. Mark M (Seattle)  |  March 24, 2011 at 4:00 am

    Big Hugs!

  • 43. Gregory in Salt Lake  |  March 24, 2011 at 4:01 am

    I appreciated your story. Grateful to have missed most of the beginnings of HIV crisis….appreciate all the stories here and tender feelings of those who have lost loved ones to this.

  • 44. Mark M (Seattle)  |  March 24, 2011 at 4:03 am

    I know how you feel Richard….can't watch that movie again
    Can't watch any of those movies it seems.
    Far to many memories of friends now gone……..

  • 45. Gregory in Salt Lake  |  March 24, 2011 at 4:35 am

    "whatever!" UGH!

  • 46. Richard A. Jernigan  |  March 24, 2011 at 5:13 am

    And far too many memories for me from Summer of 1986 when at one point I was attending at least one funeral a day.

  • 47. Gregory in Salt Lake  |  March 24, 2011 at 5:16 am

    ::no words::

  • 48. Peterplumber  |  March 24, 2011 at 5:41 am

    In the early days, it was called GRID, Gay Related Immune Deficiency.
    It was thought to be caused by poppers, or possibly other drugs.
    It was thought to ONLY effect gay men.

  • 49. fiona64  |  March 24, 2011 at 5:45 am

    I was trying to remember the old acronym. :-/ Yep, GRID.

    Love,
    Fiona

  • 50. Mark M (Seattle)  |  March 24, 2011 at 5:47 am

    I worked in an adult bookstore in 1980 and 81 when it all first started….I remember the shelves being emptied of poppers because the owners refused to sell anything that was killing people (gay men)… The Gay Cancer
    It wasn such a scary time.
    Every little bruse, sore, anything was looked at through paniced eyes.

  • 51. Gregory in Salt Lake  |  March 24, 2011 at 5:48 am

    : (

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