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Dame Elizabeth Taylor: Remembering a Trailblazing HIV/AIDS Advocate

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The passing of screen legend Elizabeth Taylor this week led many to remember the legacy of indelible film performances she left behind including Suddenly Last Summer, Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.  For those working in AIDS advocacy however, she was so much more.  She was a champion.

Dame Elizabeth's transition from film star to advocate in the mid 1980's was not only inspired by what she recognized as a dangerous lack of public and political recognition of the disease, but also by her personal experience of losing loved ones to it, including her Giant costar and close friend Rock Hudson.  As Taylor herself later said of her drive to act:

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 up.

And speak up she did, delivering both eloquent speeches to crowded fund raising galas and testimony before congressional committees.  What really cemented her commitment to the cause however, was her co-founding of the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) in 1985, which quickly became the preeminent organization dedicated to giving doctors the resources they needed fight the disease.  Taylor remained an active member of amfAR's board up until her death, and amfAR's own statement said it best.

For 25 years, Dame Elizabeth has been a passionate advocate of AIDS research, treatment and care. She has testified eloquently on Capitol Hill, while raising millions of dollars for amfAR. Dame Elizabeth’s compassion, radiance, and generosity of spirit will be greatly missed by us all. She leaves a monumental legacy that has improved and extended millions of lives and will enrich countless more for generations to come.

GLAAD honored Taylor in 2000 with the Vanguard Award at the 11th Annual GLAAD Media Awards for her tireless work in AIDS activism, and she remained a friend to the LGBT community her entire life.  In fact many of her only public appearances in recent years have been at popular West Hollywood spot The Abbey, where a memorial in remembrance of Taylor has already been created.

GLAAD's own statement in recognition of Taylor is as follows:

Los Angeles, CA, March 23, 2011 – The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), the nation’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) media advocacy and anti-defamation organization, joins the LGBT community and its allies in mourning the loss of actress and advocate Dame Elizabeth Taylor.

"Today, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community lost an extraordinary ally in the movement for full equality," said GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios. “At a time when so many living with HIV/AIDS were invisible, Dame Elizabeth fearlessly raised her voice to speak out against injustice. Dame Elizabeth was an icon not only in Hollywood, but in the LGBT community where she worked to ensure that everyone was treated with the respect and dignity we all deserve."

GLAAD honored Dame Elizabeth with the Vanguard Award at the 11th Annual GLAAD Media Awards in 2000 for her work to increase the visibility and understanding of the LGBT community. For the past several years, she has also served as an underwriter for the GLAAD Media Awards Young Adult Program, where hundreds of young LGBT adults and allies attend the event.

"Why shouldn't gay people be able to live as open and freely as everybody else?" Dame Taylor said in her acceptance speech at the 11th Annual GLAAD Media Awards. "What it comes down to, ultimately, is love. How can anything bad come out of love? The bad stuff comes out of mistrust, misunderstanding and, God knows, from hate and from ignorance."

For her passionate and trailblazing work to make the fight against HIV/AIDS an issue of national concern, Dame Elizabeth Taylor will truly be missed.

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