By Naomi Wilding, Laela Wilding, Tarquin Wilding, Quinn Tivey and Eliza Carson
April 14, 2015
We are deeply motivated by love and pride for our grandmother, as we unite as a family to participate in AIDSWatch. We want to remind people of the extraordinary work that she did, and show that we can all learn from her example, and we can all make a difference.
Our grandmother, Elizabeth Taylor, spent the last 26 years of her life committed to the fight against HIV/AIDS. Before the world took note of the AIDS epidemic, she demanded action. She co-founded amfAR to help discover lifesaving medications; established The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation (ETAF) to fund HIV prevention and care programs. She raised hundreds of millions of dollars in the fight against HIV and AIDS around the world, and her advocacy spurred a generation into action and propelled HIV/AIDS into the global spotlight.
In 1987 she persuaded President Reagan to make his first speech on AIDS (six years after the epidemic took root in the United States;) She challenged presidents several times on the salient HIV/AIDS related issues of their administrations: from the need to invest in syringe exchange, to lifting the federal travel ban that prevented people living with HIV from entering the country; She testified before Congress asking for emergency funds to U.S. cities hit the hardest by the epidemic; and testified and lobbied to ensure the passage of the Ryan White CARE Act.
To us however, Elizabeth Taylor was neither movie star nor philanthropist, she was simply our loving grandmother. She enraptured us with her stories of passion and romance from her fabulous life, and she spoke, with an even deeper sense of pride, of how her newly discovered activism had given her purpose. We were profoundly inspired by her commitment and dedication to her cause. She spoke to us of the importance of universal kindness, of equal rights for all human beings, and as we watched her use her miraculous voice to influence the world, she taught us, by example that we all have a responsibility to do what we can to improve the lives of others.
It was our grandmother’s greatest wish to see an end to AIDS within her lifetime. Sadly, in the four years since she passed away, more than 200,000 new HIV infections have occurred within the U.S; and more than 60,000 Americans have lost their lives to HIV. Her work goes on. The shocking reality is that the majority of new infections in America are in young people, and its estimated that 50 percent are not even aware of their status. Our generation is most at risk and needs to be engaged in this conversation. Her work is now our work.
There has also been great progress in these four years: The Affordable Care Act has made health insurance available to hundreds of thousands of individuals living with HIV who were previously denied. We have seen continued advancements in treatment, and a better understanding of the epidemic. In 2011, research proved early treatment not only extends the lives of those living with HIV, but reduces the likelihood of transmission to the uninfected by more than 96 percent. Yet shockingly, that same year, only 37 percent of those living with HIV in the US were on treatment.
There are real solutions at hand, but we need our Congress to act: To once and for all permanently remove the ban on use of federal funds for syringe exchange, to ensure comprehensive sex education for youth, to adequately support housing for those living with HIV, and to invest in the solutions we know work.
At AIDSWatch, we will join more than 400 advocates as they raise their voices and educate Congress on the issues impacting their lives. Advocates joining us represent over 30 states and territories across the U.S, that account for more than 95 percent of the U.S. HIV epidemic, an epidemic that now infects over 1.2 million individuals, 1 in every 300 Americans.
As we unite again, as a family, and as ambassadors for The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, we carry our grandmother’s commitment to this cause, and remember her words “[We] will not be silenced. [We] will not give up. [We] will not be ignored.”