There are certain social problems that society does not like to discuss because it is embarrassing. Rock Hudson suffered with AIDS before he decided to go public and to admit that he had the disease. When asked why he did not go public sooner Hudson said shame and the public misunderstanding of the affliction were factors in his silence.
AIDS continued to spread because people were ashamed that they had the disease. It has been 30 years since Rock Hudson told the world that he had AIDS; unfortunately, 30 years after Hudson’s disclosure millions of people have died from AIDS. Washington,DC has more cases of AIDS than West Africa. So why does a disease that has caused the untimely deaths of millions of people still carry the same burden of silence that caused Rock Hudson to suffer in silence.
The answer comes in nine letters:IGNORANCE. From the first whispers about the disease until Hudson’s bold admission AIDS spread because of fear and ignorance about the disease. People who should have been yelling the loudest were silent. The World AIDS Conference in Washington in 2012 placed the AIDS crisis on the newspaper front page for a week before the disease was placed back on the back pages again. Two years later the problem still exists.
Although the spotlight is gone and the sound stage on the mall has been torn down AIDS is still here. Donya Bates gave a report on AIDS in a college course taught by this print journalist in 1988. Bates listed each famous person who had died from AIDS at that time starting with Rock Hudson. She completed the list in 15 minutes. Today the same reading would take hours.
The AIDS Conference in Washington, DC, in the summer of 2012, was the first time in the 30 year reported history of the disease that the travel restrictions were lifted to allow those persons infected with the AIDS virus to legally travel to the United States of America to attend the week long events which were part of the 2012 AIDS Conference.
The original fear and misunderstanding of how the disease was transmitted was a factor in the long delay in allowing AIDS infected people to travel to the United States. Actress Linda Evans kissed Rock Hudson in a scene on the Dynasty television series on ABC before his death from AIDS. There was concern on the set that AIDS could be transmitted from kissing. Research later confirmed that AIDS can only be transmitted from a blood transfusion or sexual activity. The Dynasty episode illustrates the early ignorance and misconceptions about AIDS.
In an interview with people who attended the 2012 AIDS Conference the major consensus of the United States of America and its effort to find a cure for the disease is that more should be done. The role that has been played by drug companies is to give AIDS patients the medication needed to slow the progress of the disease has been a major factor in extending the life spans of many AIDS patients.
The Whitman Walker Clinic in Washington, DC, was started by Elizabeth Taylor to further research and treatment of AIDS. Taylor was the only person who was listed with the roll call of those who have died from AIDS. Although Taylor did not die from AIDS she was honored because of her dedication to the Whitman Walker Clinic and a life that gave AIDS victims hope and support.
The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation has given over 12 million dollars to pay for care to people who are living a daily battle with AIDS. As a brilliant business woman as well as a legendary actor, she was close a close friend with America’s leading man and heartthrob of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, Rock Hudson, the star of McMillan and Wife.
Hudson’s death shocked the nation in 1985 and led then President Ronald Reagan to give a speech in 1987 where he discussed the AIDS Epidemic. Although Hudson lost his heroic battle with AIDS his physician, Dr. Michael Gottlieb, would later join with Elizabeth Taylor to raise 1.8 million dollars to fight AIDS.
The nation and recording artist Elton John reacted with outrage and a call to action when teenager Ryan White was discriminated against and barred from his right to attend school because he had contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion. The prejudice and ignorance that led the school officials to exert prejudice against White was encapsulated in the most famous quote by Taylor, “It is bad enough that people are dying of AIDS, but no one should die of ignorance.”
At the time that former Mayor Sharon Pratt-Kelly addressed the nation in her passionate speech in 2012 there were 84 million people living with HIV/AIDS. Sadly 1.8 million people died in a single year from AIDS according to the Centers for Disease Control. In the CDC report in 1981, when the present writer worked as a journalist for The Columbia Record, the CDC reported the first cases of AIDS in healthy gay men in New York and Los Angeles. However, it was Hudson who would bring a national spotlight on the illness and helped to identify the disease.
Today, 30 years after Rock Hudson contracted AIDS, the fight against the disease is as crucial as when Elizabeth Taylor started her foundation in 1991. Although she made arrangements for the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation to go on in perpetuity after her death in March of 2011 at age 79; donations are still urgently needed. Unlike some non-profit organizations, the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation insures that 100% of the donations given to the organization go directly to helping people who are affected by HIV/AIDS.
There are two ways to show support for those who are fighting against AIDS. There will be a major event this month in DC on October 25, 2014. The Walk to End HIV will take place on Freedom Plaza on Pennsylvania Avenue and 13th Street, NW. To register for the event go to: www.whitman-walker.org. For those who would like to donate online to The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation go to: elizabethtayloraidsfoundation.org.
The customer service given by Elizabeth Taylor and the Whitman-Walker Clinic has been recognized and honored around the world. Yet the battle continues and supporters will show their determination to continue the fight on October 25th in Washington, D.C.