The death of Elizabeth Taylor on Wednesday drew expressions of sadness and admiration from AIDS and LGBT activists in D.C., who said they were honored that the city’s Whitman-Walker Clinic building that bears her name would serve as a local legacy to the famous actress.
Taylor, a two-time Academy Award-winning actress who starred in more than 50 films over a period of nearly 70 years, died at a hospital in Los Angeles of congestive heart failure. She was 79.
“She was an extraordinary personality and it’s a wonderful feeling that we have a little part of her legacy right here on 14th Street, said gay D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1).
Graham served as executive director of the Whitman-Walker Clinic in November 1993, when Taylor came to D.C. for a ceremony to dedicate the Clinic’s main building for patient services as the Elizabeth Taylor Medical Center.
The building is located at 1701 14th St., N.W.
Graham and Cornelius Baker, then executive director of the D.C.-area based National Association of People with AIDS, told of Taylor’s genuine interest and concern for individual patients affected by the disease, especially those encountering discrimination.
“She not only permitted us to use her name but she also made a $50,000 donation,” Graham said.
According to Graham, on the day following the dedication ceremony, Taylor visited a separate Clinic facility where people with AIDS lived.
“She visited patients there and autographed T-shirts,” he said. “She had an amazing presence.”
“Today the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community lost an extraordinary ally in the movement for full equality,” said Jarrett Barrios, president of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).
“At a time when so many living with HIV/AIDS were invisible, Dame Taylor fearlessly raised her voice to speak out against injustice,” Barrios said. “Dame Taylor was an icon not only in Hollywood, but in the LGBT community where she worked to ensure that everyone was treated with the respect and dignity we all deserve.”
GLAAD released an excerpt from remarks that Taylor made in 2000 at the organization’s 11th Annual GLAAD Media Awards event, where she received the group’s Vanguard Award for advancing the cause of LGBT equality.
“Why shouldn’t gay people be able to live as open and freely as everyone else?” she said. “What it comes down to, ultimately, is love,” Taylor told the audience. “How can anything bad come out of love? The bad stuff comes out of mistrust, misunderstanding and, God knows, from hate and from ignorance.”
Taylor has said her interest in helping those impacted by AIDS began when she watched firsthand how her close friend, actor Rock Hudson, suffered from the stigma associated with AIDS in the early 1980s before he died of the disease.
Taylor was among the founders of the American Foundation for AIDS Research (AMFAR) in 1985, when she served as the group’s international chairperson.
“She was among the first to speak out on behalf of people living with HIV when others reacted with fear and often outright hostility,” AMFAR said in a statement. “For 25 years, Dame Elizabeth has been a passionate advocate of AIDS research, treatment and care. She has testified eloquently on Capitol Hill, while raising millions of dollars for AMFAR.”
The statement adds, “She leaves a monumental legacy that has improved and extended millions of lives and will enrich countless more for generations to come.”
Baker noted that Taylor returned to D.C. in 1996, three years after dedicating the Elizabeth Taylor Building, to participate in a candlelight vigil and march along the National Mall during the weekend of the displaying of the National AIDS Quilt.
Taylor traveled the entire route of the march from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial in a golf cart alongside hundreds of activists participating in the event, Baker said. She addressed the gathering from a speaker’s platform in front of the Lincoln Memorial.
“She was just incredible,” Baker said. “She was so dedicated. She was a wonderful activist and a great inspiration to all of us.”
Don Blanchon, Whitman-Walker’s current executive director, said the Clinic is benefiting from Taylor’s early efforts on behalf of AIDS causes beginning in the 1980s.
“Her dedication to raising money along with awareness has helped to save countless lives both by helping to treat people living with the virus and by preventing new infections,” Blanchon said.