WATCH: Elizabeth Taylor’s Fight To Raise AIDS Awareness Changed History

Hollywood’s most glamorous movie star joining forces with a passionate female doctor to fight the world’s most terrifying disease sounds like the plot of a potboiler you’d read on a cross-country flight but it’s the true story depicted in the enlightening documentary The Battle of amfAR.

Co-directed by out filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman (The Times of Harvey Milk, The Celluloid Closet), the doc revisits the time in the mid-’80s when Elizabeth Taylor and research scientist Dr. Mathilde Krim, who’d been studying unusual cases of cancer involving gay men, heeded a much-needed call to arms and decided to combine their energy and voices to create amfAR (American Foundation forAIDS Research), America’s first AIDS research foundation.

Rest assured that this isn’t another stuffy history lesson, because the forever-candid Taylor could always be counted on to keep things real. “I was made so aware of this loud silence regarding AIDS that I finally thought to myself, Bitch, do something yourself!” she remarks about her decision to become an advocate for AIDS/HIV awareness. The work of Taylor and Krim changed the course of the battle against this deadly disease, of which many younger members of the LGBT communities seem unaware.

The filmmakers spoke with Queerty earlier this year and noted that young people have approached them after screenings of the film to say they hadn’t been aware of how terrifying the AIDS had been during the early years of the epidemic and that some remain ignorant of the facts that the disease is still infectious and can be deadly.

“We see the statistics,” Friedman said. “Young people are being infected at alarming rates. I think we have had young gay people at screenings come up to us afterwards and say they didn’t really understand what it was like back then when we were in the thick of it.”

Epstein believe there needs to be a resurgence of information outreach. “We’re at a different juncture in regards to the epidemic and meds and prep and all of that,” he said. “I think either grassroots or established organizations need to step up and get on the same page as far as the information that’s disseminated.”

HBO offers a preview of The Battle of AmfAR Sunday, December 1 3:45 p.m. prior to its official prime-time debut Monday, December 2 at 9 p.m. with other airings through the month.

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  • tallskin2

    amazing someone who actually did something, someone who helped someone. This should be an example to fagburn.

    I am surprised fagburn hasn’t left a comment already slagging elizabeth taylor off.

    Fagburn does nothing. He just slags off people who campaign and do things.

  • jimbryant

    Liz Taylor’s heart was in the right place.

    However, what I don’t like is how one of the directors of this movie almost implies that gay men get AIDS because of their sexuality. It comes across as a combination of homophobic ignorance and strategic marketing to gay men. Ultimately, this combination serves to shame gay men.

    I have absolutely no time for film-makers (gay or otherwise) who promote the idea that gay men get AIDS because of their sexuality. This idea serves the interests of the Religious Right.

    There is no illness on earth which is sexuality-specific.

  • Cam

    I was speaking with somebody recently at a dinner, he was older and so was right in the eye of that storm. We were talking about gay history and he mentioned that he still has his old address books with lines through all the people who died. There was almost nobody left alive, and he and others went through this in their 20’s. Losing one friend would be tough, I can’t imagine watching dozens of friends slowly die a painful death all while the govt. was saying nothing.

  • AuntieChrist

    @Cam: Thank you Cam because I was there. Imagine if you will, bars closed, bath houses gone, everyone you knew was either sick or dead or dying. And it was not a pretty death or an easy one. My friend and roomate John who died in my arms wasted away for three years in pain all the time…So thin and frail that he looked like a concentration camp victim…I would walk the streets at night and they were deserted…. it had a feeling of non reality but it was all too real.

  • the other Greg

    “we have had young gay people at screenings come up to us afterwards and say they didn’t really understand what it was like back then when we were in the thick of it.”

    I hope they do want to know! But just last week I read a diatribe by Mark S. King, a leading nutbag barebacking “activist” (who’s occasionally appeared in Queerty), lecturing us old fogeys that we should STOP going and on about the bad old days. According to King, gay kids today don’t want to hear that stuff. They just need to bareback – excuse me, have “natural sex” – while getting rid of the “stigma” of HIV, whatever the fuck THAT means. Unless getting rid of the “stigma” involves everyone getting it via barebacking?

    I don’t know what Liz Taylor would have thought of modern HIV “activism” in 2013, but she might have just given up!

  • Pistolo

    @jimbryant: Well, the tendency to get AIDS was greatly increased for gay men but not because of “lifestyle” or sexuality necessarily. That generation came along before a lot of STDs were even discovered and condoms were predominantly to avert the threat of pregnancy which was obviously not a factor for gay men.

    I wish that this was a point more emphasized. It’s not a matter of promiscuity or sexuality, when talking about catching HIV, it’s a matter of lifestyle. It’s about protection. WEAR CONDOMS! EVERYONE!

  • jimbryant


    You don’t need to wear condoms if both partners are healthy and monogamous. I know that monogamy is a strange concept to the male-male social scene but it still is a good basis on which to live one’s life. It protects you from STD’s.

    The male-male social scene has a unique promiscuity about it:

    a) It is confined to a small number of venues, thus concentrating viruses and bacteria. Concentration always leads to a greater risk to those who engage in promiscuous behaviour, especially with total strangers.

    b) A man can pay 10 dollars and enter a sex venue where he can have sex with many men within a short space of time. None of these men have been vetted sexually. They could have gonorrhoea, syphilis, AIDS…you name it.

    In contrast to the above two points, men who seek sex with women have a HUGE number of venues where they can meet women for the pick-up. This “spread out” nature of the venues dilutes viruses and bacteria. The viruses and bacteria are still there but they are DILUTED, not concentrated.

    Secondly, a man who seeks sex with women has to pay a large sum of money (say 150 dollars) to have sex with only one woman in a brothel. Moreover, the women are often vetted for STD’s before they can work in such establishments. The combined effect of expense and vetting reduces the risk factor for such men.

    I just wish that social commentators would wake up to the UNIQUE type of promiscuity that exists on the male-male social scene. It is this UNIQUE form of promiscuity which contributes to AIDS and STD’s. Sexuality has got NOTHING to do with it.

    This is why I get so angry with social commentators – including gay ones – who often interpret AIDS as being due to sexuality. Let me repeat – sexuality has NOTHING to do with acquiring AIDS. Your sexuality and libido as gay men are FINE. There is nothing shameful about gay male sexuality or libido.

    The problem is CHOICES. Promiscuous choices lead to heartbreak.

  • the other Greg

    @jimbryant: Monogamy is a heterocentric concept foisted on humanity by religion, promoted by women, and irrelevant to gay men. It’s ironic that YOU of all people, a deranged misogynist, are a proponent of monogamy!

    You claim to hate the notion that AIDS is caused by gay men’s “sexuality.”

    Then you condemn 95% of gay sexuality!

    According to you, “Your sexuality and libido as gay men are FINE”… as long as we suppress our testosterone and perfectly natural sexual desires, in order to shoehorn ourselves into your artificial heterocentric monogamy template? No reason we should do that when condoms are available.

    Actually, according to you, HIV isn’t even the cause of AIDS – oh don’t bother denying it, you’ve said exactly that before, jim/brian/jason. You claim that AIDS is caused by “promiscuity” (amount undefined) and “drugs” (type and amount undefined). In other words, you’re fucking insane. If you even believe the [email protected] you write here.

    HIV in gay men is caused not by “promiscuity,” but by anal sex without a condom. Which can happen if someone is not promiscuous at all, but happens to get fucked exactly once by an HIV+ guy who either lies about, or doesn’t know, his status.

  • jimbryant

    The other greg,

    Utter bollocks, my friend, utter bollocks. HIV is not caused by anything. It has existed for millions of years. It has always been there.

    The problem is that the 1960’s and 1970’s made a virtue out of promiscuity, not just for homosexual sex but also for heterosexual sex. When you make a virtue out of promiscuity, you open your body to bacteria and viruses that are lurking out there all the time. You allow pre-existing bacteria and viruses to enter your domain.

    The problem for men who interact with men is that you are combining two strong libidos and you are concentrated. Consider Fire Island, the haven of men who love sex with men. What a perfect setting for the explosion of STD’s!! You have horny men interacting with other horny men at the drop of a hat. No morals, just pure unadulterated promiscuity…what a scene!!!

    A scene that concentrates horny and promiscuous men within a few square miles is the perfect test tube for an explosion of STD’s. Combine this with the use of drugs that destroy the immune system – such as amyl, cocaine, heroin, special K, ecstasy, crystal meth – and you have the perfect destructive paradigm. No wonder AIDS took hold!!!

    Fire Island has a lot to answer for. It killed gay men.

  • the other Greg

    @jimbryant: Moralistic bullsh*t, and bullsh*t pseudo-science. Suddenly you’re Nancy Reagan too? Amyl & K: no effect on the immune system, that’s homophobic nonsense. Heroin was never a big factor on Fire Is. or anywhere in gay life. The others have dangers (esp. meth) but their effects on the immune system are rather far down the list. The initial HIV infection causes AIDS if untreated.

    It’s funny how you sound as horrified by gay male sex as any right-wing homophobe ever does!

    I don’t get gay male monogamy freaks. If you hate being a man so much, why don’t you just cut your fucking balls off and get it over with?

    (Which might tone down your transphobic and misogynist screeds here!)

    But perhaps you have an easy time with monogamy, “jim,” since your boyfriend must be of the inflatable plastic variety.

  • jimbryant

    The other greg,

    Promiscuity is a choice, not an orientation. You can control it by keeping your zipper shut.

  • the other Greg

    @jimbryant: Being a sexually repressed, moralistic, heterocentric prude is a choice, not an orientation. And doing it without a religious motive is just fucking weird. WTF, are you still working on a couple of Boy Scout badges or what? But don’t get me wrong, maybe we’re all glad that you’re doing that! Hopefully you never leave home at all.

    And damn, you really are naive. You can suck a lot of c0ck while keeping your zipper shut.

  • Pistolo

    So excited to see this!

    See, there are some “gay icons” that are just flamboyant, they are vocal about support, or they set up a little something like a charity but Elizabeth Taylor REALLY went to bat for us in a major way. AIDS wasn’t even like gay marriage, there was almost ZERO support for people who suffered from it. People were freezing out all the gay men, letting them die off in massive numbers because of the stigma.

    People like Elizabeth, like Dr. Krim are heroes because they made a concentrated effort to de-stigmatize AIDS, to raise awareness about it, and to raise money for AIDS research. That’s a gay icon if you ask me!

  • iMort

    @jimbryant: You said…HIV is not caused by anything. It has existed for millions of years. It has always been there.

    Genetic studies of the virus suggest that the most recent common ancestor of the HIV-1 M group dates back to circa 1910. Proponents of this dating link the HIV epidemic with the emergence of colonialism and growth of large colonial African cities, leading to social changes, including a higher degree of sexual promiscuity, the spread of prostitution, and the concomitant high frequency of genital ulcer diseases (such as syphilis) in nascent colonial cities..An alternative view holds that unsafe medical practices in Africa during years following World War II, such as unsterile reuse of single use syringes during mass vaccination, antibiotic and anti-malaria treatment campaigns, were the initial vector that allowed the virus to adapt to humans and spread.The earliest well documented case of HIV in a human dates back to 1959 in the Congo. The virus may have been present in the United States as early as 1966…but the vast majority of infections occurring outside sub-Saharan Africa (including the U.S.) can be traced back to a single unknown individual who became infected with HIV in Haiti and then brought the infection to the United States some time around 1969. The epidemic then rapidly spread among high-risk groups (initially, sexually promiscuous men who have sex with men). By 1978, the prevalence of HIV-1 among gay male residents of New York and San Francisco was estimated at 5%, suggesting that several thousand individuals in the country had been infected.

  • iMort

    @jimbryant: So in addition to being an expert on human sexuality and psychology. You also hold degrees in microbiology. Your parents must be very proud. In my minds eye all I can see is a fat ugly middle-aged nerd living in his parents basement.

  • iMort

    @jimbryant: I’m sure everyone is looking forward to your future illuminations, please let us know when you receive the Nobel prize for your humanitarian efforts.

  • BrandoPolo

    From Montgomery Clift to Rock Hudson to Michael Jackson — Liz was the best faghag ever. There’s a huge portrait of her hanging in the Abbey — the only gay icon so honored — for a reason. God bless her memory.

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