(This piece is cross-posted at the Reality Based Community)
I’ve only seen one or two Elizabeth Taylor movies. I can only identify a few of her eight husbands, and that’s double-counting Richard Burton. I do know that Elizabeth Taylor did a lot for gay rights and for honoring the humanity of people living with HIV and AIDS. She is missed.
Taylor caught some criticism and resentment from segments of the gay and HIV/AIDS activist communities who deserved more of the limelight that she immediately received because of who she was. There was no way she was going to match the intensity or the boldness of (say) many ACT-UP participants and supporters. Desperate, abandoned, often fatally ill, these men (and some women, too) lacked the time for some usual niceties of coalition politics. I can’t blame them for that. They also lacked the recognition and the social acceptance they deserved. In different ways, both ACT-UP and people like Liz Taylor did much good.
Taylor also provides a chastening reminder of something else. She could have followed the path of most other self-indulgent celebrities: being quietly decent to affected friends, otherwise keeping her head down about the epidemic. She did a lot more than that.
I myself was in my early 20s when Elizabeth Taylor really stepped forward on this issue to lead amfAR. Like most people at some remove from this epidemic, I watched passively, saddened by the scale of the catastrophe, but having a million reasons for doing…not much to help out. Elizabeth Taylor’s contributions stand as a rebuke to those of us who could have done more when it most mattered, especially in those early days when HIV advocacy was a politically marginal cause.
Phoebe Connelly has a nice piece in the Awl with more. This Frontline piece is pretty great, too (h/t Andrew Golis).