Footsteps
Joel Goldman follows Elizabeth Taylor’s lead by sustaining the activist’s unparalleled work in her foundation
by Dann Dulin

Photographed Exclusively for A&U by Sean Black

June-Cover-2016Joel Goldman had big shoes to fill. In 2011, two years after Elizabeth Taylor’s death, Goldman was tapped for the position of the first Managing Director of The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation (ETAF).

A Midwestern boy hailing from Columbus, Ohio, Goldman certainly was well qualified for the job. Following his graduation from Indiana University School of Public & Environmental Affairs, Joel joined the staff of Sigma Alpha Mu, his college fraternity’s national office doing leadership development and served as its Assistant Executive Director. He was flourishing until his world volcanically erupted. He was diagnosed with HIV, and was told that he had two to three years to live. It was 1991. Joel was twenty-eight.

With the short time remaining, he felt a core urge to educate others about the disease. He set out on a speaking tour around the country with a college buddy and named the tour, “Friendship in the Age of AIDS.” The tour lasted twelve years! Miraculous antiretroviral drugs then became available extending many of the lives of those infected. Joel delivered inspiring talks in high schools, colleges, conferences, and youth groups, winning him many awards, including the Ryan’s Angel Award from The Ryan White Foundation.

After that, Joel’s résumé reads like an Oprah charity list. In 1997 he was hired by the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation (EGPAF) where he created “Caring for Kids 101,” a college fundraising and outreach program that raised $2 million in its first eighteen months. (Joel considers Elizabeth Glaser’s son Jake, who continues his mother’s fight to end pediatric AIDS, one of his heroes, as he does activist Mary Fisher [A&U, February 2001].)

Eventually, Joel recruited Scott Wolf (at the height of Party of Five) and Brooke Shields (at the height of Suddenly Susan) as “Caring for Kids 101” celebrity spokespeople. They started dance marathon

Joel Goldman with Colin Farrell and Annie Lennox. Photo by Tabitha Fireman/Getty Images
Joel Goldman with Colin Farrell and Annie Lennox. Photo by Tabitha Fireman/Getty Images

programs on hundreds of campuses that raised funds for pediatric AIDS while doing prevention programming for college students. The celebrity spokesperson team grew and traveled with Joel to dance marathons throughout the U.S. The team included Kimberly Williams-Paisly, Jeff Probst [A&U, August 2003], Jaime Pressly, Jeff Timmons (98 Degrees), Tia & Tamera Mowry, Kate Shindle (Miss America 1999), Kim Webster, and many Survivor and Real World cast members. The college program still exists today at EGPAF.

Goldman also introduced such events as Celebrity Dodgeball, managed the organization’s celebrity relationships, and established cause-marketing platforms with brands, including a partnership with Survivor creator Mark Burnett and host Jeff Probst that has raised tens of millions of dollars for not only EGPAF, but other causes as well.

In 2004, he worked with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, launching the “Thanks & Giving” campaign that has raised tens of millions of dollars since its inception.

In 2005 after Hurricane Katrina, Joel worked with America’s Second Harvest, which later emerged as Feeding America. While there, he created Feeding America’s Entertainment Council, chaired by David Arquette, which recruited fifty actors, athletes, musicians, and chefs to raise awareness of hunger in America.

Before blending with ETAF, Joel was Director of Entertainment Industry Relations at Malaria No More, creating and producing events and campaigns, including Hollywood Bites Back, Comedy Fights Malaria, and Mararious, which involved more than sixty comics that included Conan O’Brian and Ed Helms.

Joel continues to spin his otherworldly magnetic force with ETAF, overseeing programs and projects that address a diverse array of needs.

Edit_G02A6466AIDSWatch is an advocacy event that takes place annually in the nation’s capital, where ETAF ambassadors meet with members of Congress to educate them on the state of the epidemic today.

UCLA’s Sex Squad program recently announced expansion of funding into colleges in the South, where over forty percent of all new HIV infections in the U.S. occur, specifically in the thirteen to twenty-four age group. The program is a student-based theater group that travels to local Los Angeles high schools teaching sex education through performance. “Inadequate sex education is a major contributor to the challenge facing teens in properly estimating their HIV risk,” notes Joel.

Malawi is also a major ongoing focal point. “The tide of the epidemic is already turning due to our collective efforts. Over the past decade, annual AIDS deaths in Malawi have fallen by more than sixty percent and new infections by more than half. Now it’s time for a knockout punch, and it will take the commitment of all of us—together—to deliver it.”

Grant-Making in the Southern United States has been newly extended for a second year, with ETAF once again partnering with the Elton John AIDS Foundation (EJAF) for new awards. Together the two foundations have awarded $330,000 in grants to five organizations addressing the AIDS epidemic.

Macy’s Fashion Pass campaign (July 28–August 7) will team up ETAF and Macy’s for another year. Macy’s invites customers to purchase a $5 Fashion Pass and receive twenty-five-percent savings on purchases. One hundred percent of the $5 sale of each Fashion Pass will be donated to ETAF and the CFDA (The Council of Fashion Designers of America, Inc.).

Elizabeth Taylor’s legacy endures through ETAF’s Ambassadors and Advisors, some of whom are her grandchildren, like Quinn Tivey (his mother, Liza Todd Burton, was Elizabeth and producer Mike Todd’s only child). Joel and Quinn, a New York-based visual artist and photographer, worked closely together in 2013, collaborating on a photo-essay project. In addition, twenty-five percent of royalties from sales of Taylor’s signature fragrance, White Diamonds, goes to ETAF providing funding for many grants.

(Elizabeth Taylor’s alluring and seductive White Diamonds commercial can still be seen on television today.)

Though Joel travels extensively for ETAF (in July he’ll attend the International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa), and is a workaholic by nature, Joel does maintain a domestic life with Don, his partner of ten years (and they just tied the knot in February!). They’ve traveled the world together (“…dying to go to New Zealand”) and, when home, they enjoy an evening out by going to the movies. Joel takes weekly classes of Soul Cycle and Fly Wheel. “It’s spinning on steroids,” he clarifies playfully about the intense workout.


 

[pull_quote_center]Over the past decade, annual AIDS deaths in Malawi have fallen by more than sixty percent and new infections by more than half. Now it’s time for a knockout punch, and it will take the commitment of all of us–together–to deliver it.[/pull_quote_center]


 

At Mount Mulanje (Malawi) with leaders of Grassroot Soccer, an HIV prevention program for teens funded by ETAF in May 2015. Photo by Todd Schafer
At Mount Mulanje (Malawi) with leaders of Grassroot Soccer, an HIV prevention program for teens funded by ETAF in May 2015. Photo by Todd Schafer

Dann Dulin: How is ETAF different from other organizations?
Joel Goldman:
Something special that differentiates us is the path Ms. Taylor paved for her foundation to continue even after she passed. Always two steps ahead, she arranged for all of ETAF’s operating costs to be paid for by her trust. Because of this, every dollar donated to ETAF goes directly to helping people affected by HIV and AIDS.

What’s one of your top goals for ETAF?
One of my goals is to use our assets to help reinvigorate this necessary conversation. The annual new HIV infection rate has stayed the same for the past two decades. We have the tools, the technology, and the science to change this. But we’ve become complacent. There have been so many great interventions since the beginning of this epidemic: PEPFAR, the Global Fund, and more. Let’s give our final push so we can see an end to this disease for good.

When did you first hear about the epidemic?
I was an undergraduate at Indiana University from 1981–1985, the first four years of the epidemic. I read about AIDS in the school and local Bloomington newspapers. The gist was that the new disease was not something that was going to make its way to Indiana. It’s a New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco problem. I even remember reading that AIDS was not a disease of the educated, as though a virus would know if you were enrolled in an institution of higher education and not enter your body! The truth is the blinders went up right from the start in this very conservative state.

Ironically, thirty years later, it took more people testing positive for HIV due to intravenous drug use in Scott County, Indiana—sixty miles from where I went to college—in one month, than New York City had in all of 2014, before Governor Mike Pence acknowledged the problem and lifted the ban on syringe exchange programs in the state.

How many friends have you lost to AIDS?
Unfortunately, I have known many adults, and because of my work with the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, way too many children who have lost battles to HIV and AIDS. And by the grace of God, I’ve only lost four close friends…but their deaths still weigh on my heart.

Edit_G02A6082Describe the circumstances of your getting infected.
I did not know at the time of infection, but I pieced it together twelve years later when I learned that someone I dated on and off from 1985 to 1987 had passed away from AIDS two years after we had broken up. We decided to part ways on New Year’s Eve 1987. We had a great drunken New Years in Chicago to say goodbye. It was the only time in our relationship that we did not use condoms.

A month later I met Eddie, who became my partner for eleven years. Our second date was spent in an emergency room with a terrible flu-like illness. I had never experienced such symptoms before. I now know that I was seroconverting. Eddie and I got HIV tested together within the first month of dating. Our tests came back negative. And because we were in a monogamous relationship we never got tested again until four years later when I was sick quite often with infections like giardia, thrush, and shingles. These were big clues that I probably was HIV-positive. I went to the Planned Parenthood in Indianapolis using a fake name to avoid insurance companies’ “pre-existing conditions” rules. If I tested positive I never would have been able to change jobs and still be covered by insurance.

How did you feel after hearing your results?
When the counselor told me my results I went numb. The counselor spoke but it was like hearing Charlie Brown’s teacher talk in the old cartoon—nothing registered. I remember walking down the hallway, still thinking I am going to wake up from this bad dream when I spotted a bowl of lollipops at the reception desk. I had never tasted food in my dreams before. When I tasted that cherry lollipop I knew this was not a bad dream. This was reality.

What happened then?
I took a walk around the block because I was so shaken. I could not drive. I noticed flowers, trees, the blue sky, like I had never noticed them before. They were vibrant; they stirred me. Before this moment I never noticed nature. The closest I got to nature was an LL Bean catalogue. My HIV diagnosis was an awakening for me. It put me on a new path.

And that path was helping others in need. However, I have a sense that it’s embedded in your character. Where did those values come from?
I knew that I was going to help people when I was eight years-old. Our family had been invited to Thanksgiving dinner by a congregant from my father’s Temple [Joel’s father was a Rabbi]. We went around the table to say what we were grateful for. I said that I was grateful that we weren’t poor like the family who was hosting us because we had three bathrooms and they had only one. Well…Rabbi and Mrs. Goldman were mortified, but instead of punishing me, they exposed me to real poverty.

The following week they had me pack a box of my favorite toys to bring on a day trip. My parents drove me a few hours out of town to farmland. We turned off on a dirt road and pulled up to a bunch of shacks. We were at a migrant worker camp [Joel’s father served on migrant worker rights commission with Congresswoman Bella Abzug in upstate New York]. He then took me into one of the shacks that had a bathroom with no plumbing, dirt floors, bedrolls for beds, no furniture, and no toys. They had arranged for me to stay and play with boys my own age and my parents left me there for the day. It changed me. Even at such a young age I came to understand how blessed I was, but more importantly, that there was so much that needs to be done to help the world.

Joel Goldman and UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibé. Photo courtesy UNAIDS
Joel Goldman and UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibé. Photo courtesy UNAIDS

What’s the best thing you enjoy about being connected with ETAF?
We have an amazing group of ETAF Ambassadors. They help the organization carry out Elizabeth Taylor’s vision and work and continue in the fight against AIDS without pause or hesitation. We’re in the trenches together and sometimes they accompany me on meetings.

One time at a breakfast hosted by [PEPFAR] Ambassador Birx and UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe, someone came to me and asked if they were my staff. We all laughed, but it hit me that the ETAF Ambassadors are a higher level of a committed volunteer. They are there because they honor the extraordinary Elizabeth Taylor who touched their lives. I get a sense of who this woman was by the devotion and level of commitment that I see every day. [Joel never met Taylor, though he heard her speak several times.]

A parting thought, Joel?
It’s been an honor to help support this part of Elizabeth Taylor’s legacy—being the first one who courageously stepped forward—but it’s really a team effort between so many people, each lending a helping hand. But let’s be honest, there isn’t a person on this planet with chutzpah big enough to fit into Elizabeth Taylor’s pumps!


 

For more information about the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, log on to: www.elizabethtayloraidsfoundation.org.


 

Dann Dulin interviewed singer Ashanti for the May cover story.