Taylor was early and tireless HIV/AIDS advocate

Actress will ‘stand for history on a podium above everyone else’

SANDY COHEN  |  AP Entertainment Writer

LOS ANGELES — Elizabeth Taylor was as well known for her AIDS advocacy as she was for her acting.

She was the first celebrity to speak out on the mysterious and socially divisive disease in the 1980s, calling for research, compassionate care and an end to discrimination against people with HIV and AIDS.

“I kept seeing all these news reports on this new disease and kept asking myself why no one was doing anything,” Taylor once recalled. “And then I realized that I was just like them. I wasn’t doing anything to help.”

She got involved with AIDS activism in 1985 and worked tirelessly to raise money and awareness for the rest of her life, said Craig Thompson, executive director of AIDS Project Los Angeles, where Taylor held early fundraisers for AIDS research.

“There have been a lot of incredible warriors in the fight, but she will stand for history on a podium above everyone else,” he said, adding that Taylor had seen firsthand how her friend, Rock Hudson, had lost his battle with AIDS.

In 1985, when the government had done little to educate people about the disease and nurses were afraid to deliver food trays to AIDS patients in hospitals, Taylor, along with a group of physicians, helped establish the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR).

“This was long before celebrities routinely performed or worked with charities… and the cause she selected was a disease Americans were frightened about,” Thompson said. “It wasn’t just as if she took the risk of attaching her celebrity status to a cause. She picked the most controversial cause at the time. But she was like, ‘I have friends who are dying and I have to do something, and what I can do is help raise money and help raise awareness.”

Taylor, as chairwoman of the American Foundation for AIDS Research, visited Capitol Hill to demand that the government live up to its promise to spend nearly $1 billion a year to help people with AIDS with the Ryan White Care Act. She and other stars befriended Ryan White, a teenager from Indiana who, as a hemophiliac, got HIV through a contaminated blood transfusion, was expelled from school because of his infection and became one of the disease’s most prominent early victims.

AmfAR leaders on Wednesday called Taylor “one of the most inspirational figures in the fight against AIDS.”

“She was profoundly instrumental in helping us identify the resources which have led to the research that has improved and extended the lives of those with HIV and AIDS,” said Kevin Robert Frost, chief executive of amfAR, which has invested more than $300 million towards AIDS research. “She served actively on our board up until the day she died,” Frost said.

Taylor testified on Capitol Hill in the early 1990s and convinced legislators to care about the disease, Thompson said.

“Every senator showed up. The rooms were packed and people were spellbound,” he said. “She connected HIV and AIDS to a generation that felt itself immune, the over-50 folks. Because Elizabeth Taylor was talking about it, people like my mother were reading about HIV and AIDS.”

Taylor put a public — and beloved — face on the disease.

“At a time when most Americans thought of HIV/AIDS as something that didn’t affect them, her commitment to the issue and considerable star power helped to take the fight against HIV/AIDS right into the mainstream of American society,” said Don Blanchon, who oversees the Whitman-Walker Clinic in Washington, D.C., which named its main facility after Taylor in 1993.

Magic Johnson, who put his own face on the disease when he was diagnosed with HIV in 1991, tweeted his gratitude to Taylor on Wednesday.

“Elizabeth, thank you for all your help in the battle for HIV and AIDS,” he wrote. “You will be missed by the world.”

In 1991, the actress founded the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, which has given more than $12 million to organizations across the country that provide direct care and services to people living with the disease.

Elton John praised his fellow AIDS advocate and entertainer as “a Hollywood giant … and an incredible human being.”

“She earned our adoration for her stunning beauty and for being the very essence of glamorous movie stardom,” John said in a statement Wednesday. “And she earned our enduring love and respect for her compassion and her courage in standing up and speaking out about AIDS when others preferred to bury their heads in the sand.”

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and the Human Rights Campaign said Taylor didn’t just fight for those with HIV and AIDS; she fought for equality for all.

“At a time when so many living with HIV/AIDS were invisible, Dame Taylor fearlessly raised her voice to speak out against injustice,” said GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios. “Dame Taylor 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.”

The group recognized Taylor with its Vanguard Award in 2000. “What it comes down to, ultimately, is love,” she said in accepting the honor. “How can anything bad come out of love? The bad stuff comes out of mistrust, misunderstanding and, God knows, from hate and from ignorance.”

Taylor died Wednesday from congestive heart failure. She was 79.

—  John Wright

Remembering Liz Taylor

The actress with the violet eyes captured LGBTs first with her grace and beauty and then with her unstoppable AIDS activism

DAVID WEBB  |  The Rare Reporter

Old queens worldwide will likely be watching Cleopatra, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Butterfield 8 and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf this weekend as they drink cocktails and weep.

Elizabeth Taylor, the greatest superstar of all time — and a world-renowned friend of the LGBT community and loving godmother to people who suffered and died from HIV infections — has passed away from congestive heart failure at the age of 79 in a Los Angeles hospital.

Her children issued a statement saying that the world had been a better place as a result of her living in it. And that is an understatement.

Her Oscar-winning contributions to entertainment and charity were phenomenal.

At the age of 10, I would go to the grocery store with my parents and immediately rush to the magazine rack to grab copies of the latest Hollywood gossip rags featuring Elizabeth Taylor, the reigning queen of Hollywood. I loved reading about the triumphs, tragedies, scandals and excesses of her life, and I adored and supported her throughout them.

At the time I had no way of knowing that I was gay, and that as such, I was one of those people she often embraced and befriended, long before it became fashionable to do so.

But I did know there was something different about me that made me sympathetic to her love affairs and life in general that shocked conservative people.

When the AIDS epidemic struck in the early 1980s and Elizabeth Taylor’s good friend Rock Hudson later became one of the early victims of it, she proved how brave and loyal a friend and humanitarian she could be.

The most beautiful and glamorous movie star of all time commanded the kind of clout that drew international attention, inspired others to follow suit and revolutionized public opinion. Without her help, I can’t imagine that we would be where we are today in terms of education, research and treatment of HIV infections.

While others reacted with fear and hatred as the epidemic raged, she spoke out on behalf of HIV patients and urged compassion.

Elizabeth Taylor’s reach was phenomenal. About five years ago I intended a charity benefit for the Disciples of Trinity in Dallas that provides help to terminally ill people. She had sent an autographed photograph to the charity for it to sell in a silent auction.

I was determined to leave the party with the photograph that night and I did — about a hundred dollars later.

Her generosity extended to many charities, and because of that and her work promoting HIV research, she received France’s Legion of Honor in 1987 and Queen Elizabeth made her a dame in 2000.

She also received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the Oscars in 1993 and the President’s Citizens Medal from President Clinton in 2001.

The Elizabeth Taylor Foundation for AIDS that she underwrote evidently will live on, as her children have asked for anyone wanting to send flowers to instead make a donation to the charity that bears her name.

I had always hoped I would get to meet Elizabeth Taylor one day. The closest I ever got was to seeing her at a public appearance to promote her perfume “Passion” at NorthPark Centre in 1987. I also saw her footprints at Grauman’s Chinese Theater, her star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame and the gates of her estate in Bel Air, and I’ve toured her former villa in Puerto Vallarta.

I console myself with the knowledge that everyone has a final curtain call to make, and it was time for hers. It was a brilliant performance.

And although she is gone she will live on in my memory and millions of other fans. I’ll be one of those old queens watching her movies this weekend.

David Webb is a veteran journalist who has written about LGBT issues for more than two decades. He is a former Dallas Voice staff writer. E-mail him at davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com.

—  John Wright

Don’t let story of David Kato’s murder die

HARDY HABERMAN  |  Flagging Left

A few months ago when I wrote about the draconian anti-homosexual laws being passed in Uganda, I had an ominous feeling that it would be the beginning of a very real nightmare for LGBT people in that African country.

Unfortunately, that is coming to pass.

LGBT activist David Kato was murdered, not by a sniper from a distance, but by an individual who brutally beat him to death with a hammer.

A Ugandan publication had published his photo and that of other LGBT activists on the front page; above the picture were the words “Hang Them.”

Already, the authorities in Uganda are trying to cloud the issue with talk of “thieves and gangs.” But to call his death anything but the hate crime it was is ludicrous.

Beating someone to death with a hammer is up close and personal and comes from a hate-filled rage.

Much of that rage has been fueled by clergy in Uganda. One man in particular — Martin Ssempa, a man with the dubious title of “reverend.”

If you don’t think you know him, you most likely do. Ssempa was the speaker in the YouTube video that went viral last year. In that clip he is describing how gay men “eat the pooh-pooh.”

Though to us it might have seemed comical and worthy of ridicule, in Uganda, Ssempa’s words are taken seriously.

Ssempa is a well-known preacher in Uganda, and he has a lot of well-funded U.S. ties. You see, anti-gay evangelists who can’t find an audience for their hate here in this country have fanned out to proselytize in countries where their message might have more traction.

Rick Warren, the author of “A Purpose Driven Life,” was one of Ssempa’s supporters. Though he now distances himself from the Uganda situation, funds from Warren’s church helped fuel this mess. U.S. evangelicals and the ex-gay movement are big players in Ssempa’s push.

Ssempa has wrapped his hate in the banner of AIDS activism. But don’t be fooled. His brand of activism led him to burn cases of condoms “in Jesus’ name” and to sponsor gatherings with U.S. speakers like Scott Lively, who blames homosexuals for the Nazi Holocaust.

Other U.S. interlopers include Don Schmierer, who is on the board of Exodus International and who spoke at a conference in Kampala in March, 2009, where he endorsed the anti-homosexual laws that caused such an international stir.

Now as David Kato is being laid to rest the controversy continues.

A pastor speaking at his funeral lashed out at homosexuality, prompting a strong reaction from Kato’s friends. Scuffles broke out before the event was over.

Things turned so ugly that villagers refused to bury his body, and it was up to his friends to carry the coffin to the grave and complete the burial themselves.
And all this just adds fuel to the fires in Uganda.

It is unfortunate that those fires have been stoked by citizens of the U.S. who traveled to Uganda to inflame passions there. Worse, this crime is going to fall from the front pages as events in Egypt take center stage in news from Africa. Besides, the story is somewhat old news, and falls well outside the attention span of U.S. news audiences.

That’s why it is up to the LGBT media to keep this urgent human rights story alive.

Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a member of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas. His blog is at http://dungeondiary.blogspot.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 4, 2011.

—  John Wright

Harnessing the power of Green energy for LifeWalk

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor nash@dallasvoice.com

Marvin Green
GOING GREEN | Marvin Green founded the LifeWalk Green Team 19 years ago. The team will participate in the 20th annual fundraiser for AIDS Arms next month. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

Nineteen years is a long time — especially in the world of HIV/AIDS activism and fundraising, where burnout is common.

But landscape designer Marvin Green and his Green Team this year mark their 19th year as participants in LifeWalk, the annual fundraiser that this year is celebrating its 20th anniversary.

“The Green Team is 19 years old this year, just one year behind LifeWalk. We are the oldest team participating,” Green said this week. “Other teams have come and gone, but the Green Team has managed to keep it together for 19 years.”

The first LifeWalk was held in 1991, presented then by Oak Lawn Community Services. When OLCS closed down, the responsibility for continuing LifeWalk fell to AIDS Arms Inc.

Green said he first heard about LifeWalk in 1992 through an advertisement, and he knew immediately that he wanted to participate. So he recruited two friends, dubbed the small group the Green Team, and showed up that October Sunday afternoon at Lee Park.

Between the three of them, they raised $75, Green recalled.

“I read about the walk and just thought I’d like to do something to help out,” Green said. “I mean, I know I was no angel, and I really dodged a bullet when it came to AIDS. I didn’t have AIDS, but a lot of my friends did. And I wanted to do something to help. I wanted to give back to the community.

“That first year was very sad,” he added. “I cried a lot that day, remembering my friends who had died and thinking about friends who were sick. But there was also joy, the joy of knowing that we were doing something to make a difference.”

Of the two people who walked with him that first time as the Green Team, one has since died and the other has moved away.

In 1993, the Green Team returned to LifeWalk, this time four members: Green, Rob Stewart, Darin Colby and Brian Wolter. Stewart and Colby, Green said, are still on the team today.

In 1996, the Green Team sported its first official T-shirts: White shirts emblazoned with a green lawnmower — riffing on Green’s status as owner of GreenScapes landscaping company — the handle of which was formed by a red ribbon. In later incarnations, the lawnmower/red ribbon logo became smaller, and even later it was replaced by a new logo, a white tennis shoe and a red ribbon on a green shirt, with the slogan, “It’s all in the soul.”

In those early years, Green and his team just collected some money, showed up and walked. But each year, the team grew and became more active, turning their efforts from a one-day-a-year thing to a nearly year-round effort.

So team’s donation continued to rise as the years passed. The Green Team broke the $1,000 mark — $1,670 — by 1995; the very next year, Green Team donated nearly $5,000. Last year, 2009, saw the team’s largest total yet: $19,181. This year, as LifeWalk celebrates its 20th anniversary, Green said the team has set a goal of reaching $20,000.

Now, instead of just showing up on the day of the event and donating, the Green Team works year-round, holding thank-you parties and fundraising events. This year, since LifeWalk will be held on 10-10-2010, Green said his team adopted the plan of holding 10 events in 10 months, starting in January with the WinterGreen Party at The Brick.

“We were the first team this year to start bringing in money. We raised $1,600 at that party. The Brick was very nice and helped us out a lot; all the girls in the show let us have the tips that made that night. There were 10 performers, so that was a nice amount,” Green said.

The team has also continued to grow in size. After starting with just three people that first year, the Green Team for 2010 has 37 members.

“We’ve got big things planned for next year, too, when we will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Green Team,” Green added. “We will have the WinterGreen Party again, and performing arts shows, car washes, garage sales, a wine tasting, pageants. And we do an event at the parade each year. Caven gives us space to set up a booth on Cedar Springs, and we take donations for bottled water, sodas and other things. And all that money goes to LifeWalk.”

Green admits that burnout did become a factor at one point in the history of the Green Team.

“About 10 years ago, I was starting to get really burned out. But then, I had a meeting with Jay Nolan of the Guys and Dolls Team. We went out to dinner, and he was giving me a lot of advice, telling me things like designate tasks to other team members instead of trying to do it all myself. He said we should get co-captains each year.

“So I started doing some of those things, and it really relieved a lot of the stress,” Green said.

In addition to being captain of the Green Team, Green has also become more involved with the inner workings of LifeWalk and is now on the steering committee that plans and executes the event each year.

But he is quick to spread around the credit for the ongoing success of the Green Team.

“Even though I started the team, I couldn’t keep doing it without the help of my whole team. We have a great group of team members who do so much to get us to our goal each year,” he said. “And I have to give a special thanks to my partner, John Castro, too, for putting up with all the long hours I spend on LifeWalk each year. Thank you John, for all your patience.”

What really keeps him going, though, is his memories of the friends he has lost and thinking about all the people who continue to live a daily battle against HIV/AIDS.
“My whole group of friends I was with in the ’80s and early ’90s are gone now,” Green said. “I have lost 25 friends to AIDS. I have held people’s hands as they died.

“People today don’t seem to know about all that, about how it was. They think you just take a drug cocktail and everything’s okay. They need to know how it really is,” Green continued. “I thought we’d have a cure by now, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. Not any time soon. So these funds are still desperately needed. Organizations like AIDS Arms need the money to be able to take care of those who are already sick, and to educate people to stop the spread of AIDS.

“There’s still such a desperate need for it, so I can’t stop. I won’t stop.”

AIDS Arms LifeWalk will be held Sunday, Oct. 10, at 1 p.m. in Lee Park. People can register to participate up until the time the walk begins for LifeWalk and for LifeBark, the part of the event that lets people participate with their pets. For more information, go online to LifeWalk.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 17, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens