Elton John and Elizabeth Taylor were friends and allies in the fight for LGBT equality and against HIV/AIDS. Six years after Taylor’s death, their legacy continues as the Elton John AIDS Foundation (EJAF) and the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation (ETAF) are partnering to address the HIV epidemic in the Southern United States.
Nine organizations in the region will receive a combined $485,000 in grants from the two organizations, continuing the work the two organizations have been doing for the better part of thirty years.
“In the 1980s when the AIDS epidemic began, Elizabeth Taylor was the brightest star in Hollywood, one of the greatest celebrities in the world,” said John in a statement. “But she was also willing to get her hands dirty. She stood up for gay people when few others would, and she got right into the nitty-gritty of AIDS policy and fought for the cause, without a moment’s hesitation or thought for her own reputation. Elizabeth was my dear friend, and she remains one of my heroes.”
David Furnish, John’s husband and the EJAF’s chairman, recalled Taylor’s devotion to equality and ending the HIV/AIDS crisis.
“[I remember] the time she attended the Elton John AIDS Foundation’s Academy Awards Viewing Party in 2005,” he told NewNowNext. “She was in a lot of pain and arrived in a wheelchair, but she insisted upon walking the exceptionally long red carpet and speaking with every outlet about the importance of EJAF’s work and what needed to happen in order to end the epidemic.”
That appearance typified the legendary actress’ dedication as a humanitarian.
“My grandma was both compassionate and courageous, and stood up against that which she couldn’t stand for, using her voice and her means in every way she could,” says Quinn Tivey, Taylor’s grandson and an ambassador for The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation.
“That sense of compassion, courage, and action is something we can all live by, whatever our passions, whatever our means.”
Furnish praises Taylor for “always defying the odds, always looking for ways to help others, always ready to speak her mind, always completely committed, and always willing to use her fame for good.”
Both foundations launched in the early 1990s, when effective antiretroviral therapy was still several years off and PrEP wasn’t even a consideration.
“People were getting sick and dying, many abandoned by family and friends,” Furnish recalls. “Our first imperative was to help fund emergency services and medical care for the sick, and our second was to keep alive the efforts of Ryan White… to educate law and policy makers and the public about HIV prevention.”
That sense of urgency hasn’t left but the advent of reliable preventative measures and treatments has meant a shift toward getting them in the hands of those who need them most. Rates of HIV in the South are nearly twice the national average—in some Southern cities as many as three out of every ten gay/bisexual men are positive.
Among the initiatives targeted by the grants are access to PrEP in Jacksonville; HIV/AIDS advocacy for gay men of color in Georgia; LGBT youth programs in Birmingham, Corpus Christi and Atlanta; and a program in South Carolina designed to help patients adhere to their HIV treatment regimen.
Says Furnish, “If governments were to fully fund universal prevention and treatment programs for all, we could end this epidemic with the methods and medicines we already have.”