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

Abounding Prosperity promotes HIV prevention

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Abounding Prosperity will launch its new initiative, “Dallas Taking Control,” at a town hall meeting that will be held next week in conjunction with the first South Dallas AIDS walk.

Kirk Myers, Abounding Prosperity’s CEO, said his organization is the only African-American run AIDS organization in South Dallas. The agency’s offices are located across the street from AIDS Arms’ Peabody Clinic.

Among the initiative’s goals are increased access to prevention education and outreach to men who have sex with men, and increasing awareness of the urgency of HIV/AIDS through social networking and increase partnerships.

Myers.Kirk
Kirk Myers

Myers said that while AIDS Arms cares for people with HIV, his organization is dedicated to preventing infection.

 

He referred to the $8 million AIDS Arms is raising for a second clinic.

“Eight million dollars can prevent a lot of HIV cases too,” he said.

He said he isn’t criticizing the work of AIDS Arms, but is questioning the county’s and state’s commitment to promoting awareness and preventing the disease.

The South Dallas AIDS Walk will be held on Saturday, March 19. The Anthony Chisolm AIDS Foundation that scheduled the walk planned a town hall meeting the night before at Cornerstone Baptist Church. Phill Wilson is the featured speaker.

Wilson founded the Black AIDS Institute in 1999. Before that he co-chaired the Los Angeles County HIV Health Commission and was director of policy and planning at AIDS Project Los Angeles.

Wilson.Phill
Phill Wilson

After Wilson speaks, Dallas’ new first lady, State Rep. Barbara Mallory-Carroway, will moderate a panel discussion about the Dallas Taking Control initiative.

Among the panelists will be Dallas County Health Director Zachary Thompson. From the Texas Department of State Health Services, the director and the manager of the TB, HIV and STD division, Felipe Rocha and Dr. Ann Robbins, will appear along with Kevin Jones, a behavioral scientist with the Centers for Disease Control.

A study issued by the CDC last year found that gay black men in Dallas had among the highest rates of HIV in the country. Myers called the statistics a disaster and his organization requested a state of emergency in Dallas.

While the state of emergency was denied, Myers said that the panel is a result. He said this is the first time county and state health officials have come together specifically to address the black gay community in Dallas.

Myers said that his organization continues to grow and is receiving more recognition for its work.

Abounding Prosperity operates Prosperity House in South Dallas as a temporary housing providing low-cost transitional housing.

Myers said his agency is looking to expand to provide free temporary housing for at-risk gay black youth aged 17 or older.

……………………………

First South Dallas AIDS Walk steps off on March 19

The Anthony Chisom AIDS Foundation will hold the first South Dallas AIDS Walk on Saturday, March 19.

The 5K walk begins and ends at the South Dallas Cultural Center on Fitzhugh Avenue near Fair Park. Registration begins at 8 a.m. and the walk at 10 a.m.

“The goal is to inspire, galvanize and rally South Dallas,” the foundation’s executive director, Auntjuan Wiley, said.

He said the dollar goal is $100,000.

“We still need sponsors, vendors, volunteers, walkers and teams,” Wiley said.

At the end of the walk, he said there will be entertainment and children’s activities.

Wiley said the foundation, which began in 2008, provides financial assistance for people with HIV. They help with rent, utility bills, insurance payments and access to medication. Transportation vouchers help clients get to their medical appointments.

For more information, please call Auntjuan Wiley at (214) 455-7316. You may also visit SouthDallasAIDSWalk.org.

The agency also provides HIV and syphilis testing, counseling and referral services. Myers said his group is not a nine-to-five office-hours, HIV testing organization.

“Our goal is to serve the most at-risk people,” he said. “We do it at times convenient to our clientele.”

That includes sending staff to clients’ homes when necessary, Myers said.

Abounding Prosperity also runs substance abuse meetings for men dealing with alcohol and drug problems.

This year, Black Tie Dinner approached the group about applying to become a beneficiary. Myers said the  agency completed and submitted its application and he is waiting to see if Abounding Prosperity is accepted as a beneficiary.

Myers said he appreciated the outreach by Black Tie and added that it confirmed that the work his organization is doing within the black gay community is being recognized beyond the South Dallas community as well.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 11, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Forum set to promote HIV awareness

from staff reports

Resource Center Dallas will hold a community forum seeking input to expand awareness and prevention of HIV/AIDS in an effort to battle the growing rate of HIV/AIDS in Dallas County, on Tuesday, Oct. 12, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the center, 2701 Reagan St.

The forum is being held in collaboration with Dallas County and other community partners. It is free and open to the public.

Bret Camp, associate executive director for health and medical services at the center, said, “The goal is to lay groundwork for a community-driven effort that will reduce the transmission of HIV/AIDS, and to increase awareness of the services available to the public.”

He noted that a recent CDC study found that in 2008, one in five — or 19 percent of — men who have sex with men in 21 major U.S. cities are infected with HIV. Nearly half — 44 percent — were unaware of their infection.
The forum is part of the “Greater Than AIDS” project which responds to the AIDS crisis in the United States by targeting the severe and disproportionate epidemic among the gay community and African-Americans. The effort aims to raise knowledge and understanding of HIV/AIDS and confronts the stigma surrounding the disease.

Resource Center’s forum concentrates on gay men and will target communities most heavily affected, based on HIV/AIDS incidence and prevalence data, to ensure its success. Information gained will be used in strategic planning to reduce the number of HIV cases in the Dallas metropolitan area.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 08, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas