By Vignetta Charles, PhD | September 17, 2019
Elizabeth Taylor started her AIDS activism in the late 1980’s. She was watching friends fall tragically ill from a preventable disease, and she wasn’t seeing an appropriate response. She leveraged her celebrity and her fierce determination and took action.
I actually have something in common with Elizabeth Taylor. I started AIDS work the same way—watching people I knew and loved get sick and die. I didn’t have the celebrity or the platform to do the incredible things that she did, but I did take action to impact the epidemic. I continue to do so.
Elizabeth Taylor’s public activism was personally inspiring. And I would not be overstating the case to say it also sparked some of the greatest achievements in response to the pandemic—actions that live on and inspire even today. Ms. Taylor was there before other celebrities, before politicians, before the public health response. Elizabeth Taylor was just doing the darn thing.
She pushed then-President Ronald Reagan to officially recognize the crisis (after many years of agonizing silence). She testified before Congress to get the Ryan White Care Act passed. She inspired other celebrity champions like Elton John. She was a co-founder of amfAR with another one of my sheroes, Dr. Mathilde Krim. And she did so much more—take a look at the AIDS timeline on the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation (ETAF) website to see some of the impressive work she did both nationally and internationally throughout her life.
Our response to the pandemic has been changed by Elizabeth Taylor’s activism in ways we could not have imagined at the outset. Through the foundation that bears her name, she continues that legacy even after her death. So it is with humility and gratitude that I have accepted an appointment to the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation’s Advisory Board. I thank the ETAF’s Board of Directors, which includes Ms. Taylor’s grandchildren, whom she also inspired into advocacy, for this honor.
Elizabeth Taylor famously declared, “When people say, ‘She’s got everything,’ I’ve got one answer—I haven’t had tomorrow.” This wasn’t just a philosophy for her own life. It was a commitment she ultimately made, with generosity and love—to offer the gift of tomorrow to people living with AIDS.
I continue to be inspired by Elizabeth Taylor. I pledge to be a responsible steward of the precious resources she has entrusted to this organization to bring about the end of AIDS.
Vignetta Charles, PhD, is Chief Executive Officer at ETR. She can be reached at email@example.com.