Loss of Elizabeth Taylor felt in DC AIDS advocacy community

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File photo: Dame Elizabeth Taylor during the Michael Jackson '30th Anniversary Celebration, The Solo Years' concert at New York's Madison Square Garden, Friday, Sept. 7, 2001.

News of Elizabeth Taylor’s death came about the same time that Congressional staffers were at a briefing about federal support for AIDS care.

AIDS service providers worry that state and federal budget cuts will make it difficult to get AIDS medication to those who need it. Thomas Decker was dropped from a Virginia state program that provided the drugs he needs to stay alive. He talked about that with a group of Congressional staffers.

Later, Decker reflected on the life of actress Elizabeth Taylor - who dedicated the last 30 years of her life to raising money for AIDS research. "She, I think, destigmatized the horrible notion that AIDS was just a gay issue. That it was a worldwide issue and it basically like any other disease is just that: a disease."

Decker says Elizabeth Taylor is remembered every day at an HIV health clinic named in her honor in northwest Washington, DC.

Mona Bernstein directs the Pacific AIDS Education and Training Center in California. She says Taylor’s leadership helped decision makers and the public recognize the impact of HIV-AIDS. She says Taylor was particularly important when it came to addressing the issue of the stigma of AIDS, "which unfortunately is still alive and well in many communities and to stand up and say before her fans and before the public that I embrace this issue, I embrace my friends that are living with HIV and AIDS and this is important for everybody to recognize and take on and for it to become part of the public discourse."

Bernstein says reducing the stigma of AIDS makes it easier for people to get tested and get care.

Bill McCall, political director for the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group AIDS United, says Elizabeth Taylor was both a fundraiser and raised the public awareness about HIV and AIDS. "I cannot tell you the impact that Elizabeth Taylor had on this epidemic!"

McCall says Taylor had "many friends who themselves were infected with HIV and many of them died, and I think it was shocking to her and I think it was shocking to the community at the time. It’s truly a great and tragic loss for the entire HIV/AIDS community."

He says Taylor remained active on AIDS issues "right up until the very end."

There are an estimated 1-point-2 million Americans living with HIV-AIDS today.

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