I had forgotten that the great Hollywood actress Elizabeth Taylor held the coveted title of Dame, or DBE - Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Actually until her death March 23, I never realized that Dame Taylor was actually English-born by American parents. Shortly before World War II, her parents decided to return to the U.S. and soon settled into Los Angeles, a decision that would lead to Taylor's childhood acting career.
One could spend hours detailing the long entertainment history of Taylor - her award-winning roles in cinema, the media circus that surrounded her personal life and her plethora of close friendships that will likely be written about for years to come. In a touching piece entitled "Elizabeth Taylor: My Wickedly Funny Friend" written last week by friend and colleague Joan Collins, she called Taylor the "last of the great movie stars."
Despite all of her fame, many believe that her status as a gay icon and close friend to the LGBT community probably meant the most to her. Collins also wrote that Taylor was "open and sincere . . . if she liked you, she genuinely liked you and was your friend for life." One of the greatest examples of that friendship came when actor Rock Hudson was diagnosed AIDS in 1984, known then as the "Gay Plague" or "Gay Cancer." Many people panicked and stopped all association with their gay friends, leaving them to die alone. Taylor's loyalty and strength was unbreakable, however - a strength that would serve her well for years to come. She rushed to Hudson's side and brought a worldwide focus to the AIDS issue. She would spend the rest of her life as the first and prime spokesperson in the war against HIV.
She did this long before Madonna or Lady Gaga. She was the gal pal to gay or bi legends such as Montgomery Clift, Hudson, Roddy McDowall and James Dean. Her strength, especially in the face of the early AIDS crisis, would inspire thousands of gay men throughout the world to fight for their lives in the midst of terrible discrimination and pain.
In 2000, Dame Elizabeth, as she preferred to be called in her later years, was awarded the Vanguard Awards at the 11th Annual GLAAD (Gay Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) Media Awards. In her acceptance speech, she spoke of her close relationship to the gay community and that personal strength that meant so much to gay men everywhere. Not only did she battle against HIV/AIDS she fought tirelessly for the idea of equal rights for all. The video has recently been released in its entirety and in it she says, "There is no gay agenda; it's a human agenda. All of us should be treated the same."
Taylor goes on to say, "Why shouldn't gay people be allowed to be able to marry?" Taylor was married eight times to seven different men and she often joked about her own legend in the field of matrimony. "Those against gay marriages say marriage should only be between a man and a woman. God, I of all people know that doesn't always work!" she exclaimed in her GLAAD speech. GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios told Marc Malkin with E! Online that "Dame Elizabeth 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."
In touching tributes, gay fans have honored Taylor this week for her work and her friendship. LGBT channel OutQ on SiriusXM radio honored Taylor's fight against AIDS, including a look at her work dedicated to the support of AIDS research, HIV prevention and treatment as the founder of amfAR, one of the world's leading non-profits dedicated to ending the disease. Michelangelo Signorile also explored Taylor's life, career and dedication to raise awareness of the issue. Hopefully they'll post clips of the shows for On-Demand listening. Check www.siriusoutq.com for more information.
Meanwhile, the staff at the very popular West Hollywood gay bar (and said-to-be Taylor's personal favorite gay nightspot) The Abbey erected a candle-lit memorial to the actress in the V.I.P. room where she often hung out. TMZ reported that Abbey regulars have been adding things to the shrine since her passing and the bar is also serving up a special drink with proceeds benefiting the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation. Throughout Taylor's life, she has raised more than $200 million for AIDS research. In addition, she has reportedly left the bulk of her estate - worth at least $600 million - to the two AIDS charities she founded.
Following Taylor's death, word spread of the plan from right-wing nut-job Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church minions to picket her funeral. Luckily plans were made in order to ensure that the "God Hates Fags" group wouldn't have the pleasure of succeeding in their latest attempt at disgracing honorable funeral services, but people quickly started a campaign to donate money to AIDS charity organizations in their name - fighting hate with love the way Taylor would have wanted it.
In her own words, Taylor expressed a simple yet powerful lesson to live by in that GLAAD acceptance speech which you can view here in its entirety.
"How can anything bad come out of love? The bad stuff comes out of mistrust, misunderstanding and God knows from hate - and from ignorance," says Taylor in the speech. "During my life, I've seen many things - good and bad, but the bad things never came out of loving acts, loving gestures or loving relationships. That's why I'm here tonight - to celebrate you and your families and to tell you to hang in there. And say once and for all of us - Long Live Love." And long live the memory and inspiration of Dame Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor, DBE (February 27, 1932 - March 23, 2011).
OUT & ABOUT
Sunday, April 3 - Myrtle Beach Pride will host a Pride Pot Luck Dinner at Sneaker's Bar & Grill on Sunday to raise money for the organization. The fun starts at 3 p.m., dinner (an Italian buffet) is scheduled for 6 p.m. and entertainment begins at 8 p.m. so come out and enjoy good friends, food and fun. Sneaker's is at 819 Main Street in downtown Myrtle Beach. Cover is $10 without a food item and $5 with. For more information, call 445-2800.
Saturday, April 30 - Just like Elizabeth Taylor's long history of giving to HIV/AIDS charities, April 30 marks the 16th Annual Dining with Friends, a culinary event to raise awareness, understanding and financial support for local people living with HIV. For those not familiar, DWF is an annual fundraising event that benefits Careteam, Inc., the local HIV/AIDS Service Organization for Horry, Georgetown and Williamsburg Counties. Here's how it works. People across the tri-county area throw parties, often dinner parties, and ask their guests to donate a certain amount to Careteam. At the end of the night, the parties gather together for the After Party Celebration at the Myrtle Beach Train Depot for desserts, coffee, drinks, dancing and a live auction. Donations are tallied and a good time is basically had by all. It's a night to turn the town red and raise money for a tremendous cause. Since I no longer live in the area, it would be hard for me to throw a dinner party, but in the memory of Taylor and the many others who have tirelessly spent a good portion of their lives fighting this horrible disease, I plan on supporting this worthwhile charity and am asking you to do the same. Please take the time to send a tax deductible contribution to Careteam today. Now more than ever, the organization needs your support. Funding continues to decrease for AIDS service organizations around the world, even though the need does not diminish. Host a party this year, head out to the after party for the live auction or simply make a donation by visiting www.careteamsc.org or by calling 236-9000.