Family Values & Generational AIDS Advocacy

Just mention grandmothers and AIDS and one thinks immediately of the pandemic in South Africa and other countries on that continent. Grandmothers empowered themselves to become caregivers for family members whose mothers and/or fathers died of AIDS-related causes. They also often became an entrepreneurial force, transforming their skills into a fundraising bonanza, all the while becoming involved in the nuts and bolts of making their communities work better. By themselves and along with help from such initiatives as the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s Grandmothers to Grandmothers campaign, they have been able to secure testing, treatment, and wellness for their many.

Another grandmother has proven just as inspiring, stateside—one of the great visionaries in AIDS care on the world stage, Dame Elizabeth Taylor [A&U, February 2003]. Though Taylor was not responding to AIDS in her family, but rather the devastation that the pandemic wrought here in the U.S. and abroad, she nevertheless had the same impetus—a generation had almost been wiped out and she stepped forward to dismantle AIDS apathy and secure funding for research and development. Isn’t it ironic, then, that, as a result of the direct funding and development of protease inhibitors by amfAR [cofounded by Taylor and Dr. Mathilde Krim (A&U, December 2001)], we now have millions of sub-Saharan Africans who are not only thriving but also returning to robust parenting of a generation much less burdened by HIV?

My own personal experience of “knowing” Elizabeth Taylor runs through much of my adult life from when I witnessed firsthand her blood-curdling castigation of then President George H.W. Bush at the Geneva edition of the XII International AIDS Conference (1998) to my time meeting with Dr. Krim when I auditioned an early AIDS documentary film called Life During Wartime (1987), with a soundtrack song contributed by AIDS legend and musical genius Michael Callen, to this special issue of the XXII International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam spotlighting the legacy of two of Elizabeth Taylor’s own granddaughters and The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation ambassadors, Naomi deLuce Wilding and Laela Wilding.

Laela Wilding and Naomi deLuce Wilding. Photo by Sean Black

Beautifully photographed by Sean Black and deftly interviewed by Larry Buhl, Naomi and Laela are showcased as exemplary messengers of Taylor’s original brand of compassion and advocacy put to good work well into the twenty-first century. (Other grandchildren and even a great granchild also serve as ETAF ambassadors.) Together, they know that activism cannot just happen for one generation; it needs to reboot every generation. It is truly a family affair.

Laela and Naomi explain why they care: “We are determined to support the legacy of our grandmother and let the world know the foundation is thriving, and is still working to help people living with HIV in education advocacy, and supporting people living with HIV around the world.” As ETAF ambassadors, both women have different focuses, yet both are forthright in their messages, just like Elizabeth! How wonderful it is when history does repeat itself for a good cause!

In this issue devoted to the upcoming International AIDS Conference, history is repeating itself in other features, all penned by Editor At Large Hank Trout. In Gallery, we cover the Whitney Museum’s new show featuring David Wojnarowicz, a writer and artist responding to the AIDS epidemic in the late eighties and early nineties. His work, full of fire and fury, resonates today in our era of resistance. Then, we offer an inside look at Golden Compass, a program of the HIV Clinic of the UCSF HIV/AIDS Division at Ward 86 at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital that helps the AIDS generation age as well as possible. Ward 86 set the gold standard for AIDS care and its staff continues to shine! Finally, we spotlight After 82, a new film from the UK that revisits the AIDS generation in that country. The wisdom of the elders in our AIDS tribe abounds. Listen closely—these are our family values!

David Waggoner is Editor in Chief and Publisher of A&U, the first national HIV/AIDS magazine in the U.S.