There is nothing better than friends supporting one another. A few weeks ago Jennifer Hillman of LuxAnthropy asked me if I had met the amazing people over at The Elizabeth Taylor’s AIDS Foundation? The answer was that I hadn’t and to be honest I was completely naive in my thinking about AIDS, that was until I spoke with Joel Goldman who has acted as the Executive Director of The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation (ETAF) for the past five years. With World AIDS Day here, this Saturday, December 1st, it seemed like the perfect time to share our enlightening and moving conversation.
Charity Matters: Joel give us some HISTORY of how the ETAF began?
Joel Goldman: In 1985 Elizabeth Taylor planned a benefit for AIDS Project Los Angeles, that was the same year that Ryan White was banned from entering school for having AIDS. Elizabeth’s friend, Rock Hudson died of AIDS that year along with 12,529 other Americans and Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson’s doctor, Dr. Michael Gottlieb, created the National AIDS Research Foundation, which became AmFar. By 1987 over 40,000 Americans were dead from AIDS and a year later that number jumped to 61,800 deaths.
In 1991, Elizabeth Taylor sold her wedding photos to People Magazine for one million dollars to begin the funding for the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation. That same year Freddie Mercury of Queen died of AIDS and by now, one million Americans were infected with HIV. By 1996, the United Nations estimated that 22.6 million people worldwide were living with HIV and by 2002 HIV was the leading cause of death worldwide for people between the ages of 15-59. When Elizabeth Taylor died in 2011 there were 34 million people living with AIDS.
I came to The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation five years ago to lead this incredible organization without Elizabeth Taylor at the helm. My mission was to take her legacy and build a continued legacy in global health.
Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation Does?
Joel Goldman: We were established to provide funding and grants to organizations around the globe that offer direct care to people living with AIDS and HIV. We also focus on HIV education around the globe and advocacy programs. We work on HIV criminalization reform that still exists in 31 states across our country. We have mobile clinics in Malawi that are treating up to 1,000 people per day.
Charity Matters: What fuels you to keep doing this work?
Joel Goldman: What fuels me to keep doing this work is the global disparity in access to medication. There are over 36 million people globally living with HIV and millions do not have the same access to the medication they need. Our work is to ensure that everyone has an equal playing field. Part of that work is education and going to Washington DC for AIDS advocacy on Capitol Hill.
Charity Matters: When do you know that you have made a difference?
Joel Goldman: We know we have made a difference with the education and awareness work we fund. We have made an impact on our advocacy laws and in the millions of people we serve with our support services. The ETAF has granted over twenty million dollars to over 675 organizations in 44 countries and 42 states. We make a difference every day in big and small ways.
Charity Matters: What life lessons have you learned from your time at the ETAF?
Joel Goldman: There have been so many life lessons learned during my five years here at ETAF. This was my first time in the Executive Director role and there was an immediate lesson in responsibility and truly caring for an organization and it’s legacy.
I have learned how much better our world would be if we all partnered instead of competed. I learned this when we partnered with a malaria organization in Africa because people were willing to be tested for malaria and afraid of being tested for HIV. Today because of that partnership we treat more malaria in Africa than HIV because we were willing to build a bridge to work together. More than anything, I have learned that if we are going to defeat something we ALL need to come together.
Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?
Joel Goldman: I was diagnosed with HIV in 1991, the next day I needed to fly to Los Angeles for a job interview from Indiana. I was in shock with my diagnosis and thinking I was going to die of AIDS, I upgraded my plane ticket to first class…thinking why not? On the plane I ended up seating next to Ryan White’s mom, Jeanne. I thanked her for all she had done and was doing for AIDS patients, not sharing with her my diagnosis. I asked her why she was going to LA. She replied that she was going to give Elizabeth Taylor an award for her work with AIDS.
Five years ago, on my first day at the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation they gave me a stack of folders on the history of the organization. The first one I opened was the photo of Ryan White’s mother presenting Elizabeth Taylor with her award. I knew then and know now that I was meant to be here and to do this work. All I can hope is that I have done Elizabeth Taylor proud.
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