As the nation mourns the passing of one of the original fighters of HIV/AIDS, Elizabeth Taylor, we are nearing the 30th year of facing the disease. The first case of AIDS was reported in the U.S. on June 5, 1981. The Centers for Disease Control found the disease in five gay men in Los Angeles. There was still no name for the disease and the press coined the phrase, Gay-Related Immune Deficiency or GRID.
There was no cure and the gay community was hit hard. Surely, the outlook must have been bleak, with no cure and no knowledge about the disease; there were no resources or outlets for information.
There’s no one person that can be credited with helping improve that situation and slow the epidemic. No one person can take credit for raising all the funds for AIDS research and helping people become educated on how to treat the disease. But, if anyone could come close, Elizabeth Taylor could.
When her friend, Rock Hudson, became one of the early victims of AIDS, Taylor brought the attention to the disease that no one else could.
Taylor was the Queen of Hollywood; not a title that is given lightly. After the world watched her grow up on film in National Velvet, she went on to be a two-time Academy Award-winning actress. Her torrid love affairs garnered more attention and magazine covers than her superb acting ever could.
While others reacted to the AIDS crisis with fear, hatred and homophobia, and called the disease a punishment from god, Taylor responded with love and compassion. Her star-power was exactly what was needed to help turn the tide and start the hunt for a cure, raise awareness and educate on how to avoid the disease.
She went on to help found the American Foundation for AIDS Research. She also started her own fund called the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Fund. Throughout her life she helped raise more than $50 million to fight the disease.
The war against AIDS had terrible casualties. But because of efforts made by Taylor, and countless others, the knowledge of how to prevent the disease spread. Condoms began showing up in gay bars and in other places.
Knowledge about how to prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) was more than just helpful. It saved lives. Learning how STDs are spread cost lives. And the knowledge of how to stop STDs should be shared with everyone that could possibly be affected, especially teenagers that may not know about them.
In an unheralded decision, the Utah State Board of Education chose to kill a small Power-Point slideshow that was used to teach kids about the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases. The slide show was very clear and said that the only guaranteed way to avoid STDs was through abstinence. But it also told high school students about condoms and other forms of protection.
Gayle Ruzicka, director of the Utah Eagle Forum, said the slideshow was an example of how liberal and intrusive the school board has become. She told the Salt Lake Tribune that abstinence was the only necessary tool to teach students about contraception.
Sen. Bill Wright, R-Holden, said he could not accept the slideshow as valid information because it had a picture of a man giving a woman a piggy-back ride. Both people were fully clothed and the photo was used to illustrate how students could have fun without having sex. Wright called it inappropriate and said it would just entice young people to have sex. So the slideshow was killed.
School is not the only place that teenagers should learn about safe sex. But it is one of the first places they’ll be introduced to sex. Denying the youth a chance to learn about sex could cost lives. The attitude that abstinence is the only form of protection needed, and all other consequences are deserved, is the same attitude that retarded the progress in stopping the AIDS epidemic.
The work that the Queen of Hollywood helped start continues here in Utah.