February 27, 1932 – Dame Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor Hilton Wilding Todd Fisher Burton Burton Warner Fortensky:
“The problem with people who have no vices is that you can be pretty sure they’re going to have some pretty annoying virtues.”
She came into my focus when my mother sat me down at the kitchen table when I was a 5-year old little gay boy and explained to me the entire Elizabeth Taylor + Eddie Fisher –Debbie Reynolds = Scandal equation. I got it. She was my mother’s favorite film star; they were born in the same year and in same month.
Taylor was always a trusted friend to LGBTQ people and LGBTQ people loved her right back. She was a very close friend and confidant of a coterie of gay men: Roddy McDowell, Rock Hudson, George Cukor, Noël Coward, James Dean, and most significantly, Montgomery Clift. She was even known to hang out at gay bars. My sources spotted her at The Abbey in West Hollywood only a decade ago.
During the Ronald Reagan presidency, Taylor was the first and most prominent movie star to lend her money, energy, time and name to HIV/AIDS fundraising. Her considerable star wattage turned Taylor from someone who empathized with both the fragility and duality of gay men’s political place in the USA to a commanding force for change. In 1985, Taylor, along with the late Dr. Mathilde Krim, plus a small group of physicians and scientists, formed the American Foundation For AIDS Research (amfAR). In 1991, she started her own organization, The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, to support direct services for those infected and complement the research, education, and advocacy programs of amfAR.
At the eighth International AIDS Conference in 1991, she said of President Bush The First:
“I’m not even sure if he knows how to spell AIDS.“
Her public pronouncements on the subject were passionate, profound and poignant. She raised hundreds of millions of dollars.
For the last 25 years of her life, the fight against HIV/AIDS became a full-time avocation for Taylor:
“I hope with all of my heart that in some way I have made a difference in the lives of people with AIDS. I want that to be my legacy. Better that than for the mole on my cheek.“
Taylor’s relationship with gay men provided a more modern template for the status of Gay Icon. Gays used to embrace a woman who carried the burden of empathy, the kind of strung out glamorous tragedy that Judy Garland epitomized. Taylor had that, for sure, but she also made herself useful. She planted the seeds for the pioneering place in the gay orbit for Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, and Lady Gaga. Taylor’s embrace of gay people was not an affectation or marketing device, but something innate and intuitive. Aside from the husbands, the martinis, and the diamonds, she had a heart that many gay men unequivocally adored, and with plenty of reason.
I wish she could have seen HIV become the manageable condition it is today, and to have witnessed Marriage Equality, but mostly I wish that Elizabeth Taylor was with us today, celebrating her 89th birthday.