My chosen document of learning is my interview with Lela Hung of the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation. We had an incredibly insightful conversation concerning Elizabeth’s activism, her personal struggles and goals, and the public scrutiny she faced. The interview resulted in an inspiring talk about the role of activism and law in society, and a foundation shirt Ms. Hung sent to me all the way from California!
Without further ado, here is a short excerpt of the interview.
Taylor’s life was broadcasted non stop in tabloids, magazines, and many aspects of her personal life were showcased for the public. Was this constant broadcast beneficial for her reputation, or rather a hindrance to the public’s acceptance of her humanitarian efforts?
The public criticism was actually beneficial for her the long run, because she ended up using this built up strength for her work and activism in later years. She was so used to having people criticize her so her tolerance for the public spotlight gave her resilience and strength in her endeavours. She never cared about what the public said. And I think it’s interesting because I believe everything happens for a reason, and sometimes the bad or difficult experiences we go through give us skills for the future.
How did Elizabeth Taylor influence societal views towards HIV/AIDS and reduce stigma surrounding those topics?
The number one thing about Elizabeth was that she didn’t care about what people thought. She had friends affected by HIV, and she wanted to do something, but there were friends that legitimately just hung up on her or ignored her when she was planning to start a movement. She was fed up by how people seemed to stray away. And it’s admirable how she genuinely cared, while a lot of other stars at the time were only doing things for a boost to their public reputation. AIDS affected many of her close friends and some of her grandchildren as well. What’s really interesting is how she was actually really intelligent in the way she planned everything and chose to attack the problem. We tend to focus on her beauty and the surface impact we see, but she had an incredible, intelligent mind. She familiarized herself with medication and medical options for those with AIDS and used her fame to publicly speak to congress, which was a huge deal.
Below are some notes from other topics we discussed. I decided to only stick to a few of my original questions, as I quickly realized that the amount of knowledge Ms. Hung had easily surpassed the questions I planned to ask.
Other activism Ms. Hung spoke about:
- hurricane katrina
- wiped out entire city
- hospitals evacuating patients
- says to assistant: “ WHAT ABOUT WITH HIV? HOW ARE THEY GOING TO GET THEIR MEDICATION “?
- found agency to work with other agencies
- mobile vans paid from her own money
- delivers medication, still running in New Orleans today
- “I want you to research the most poor, damaged place. Send medication and people there.”
- chose Malawi, Africa, and began to deliver medicine
- higher ground to provide aid in third world countries
- the money she used for activism was her own birthday present to herself
In addition to activism, we also discussed Elizabeth’s personal life and relationships, as Ms. Hung knew Elizabeth’s grandchildren personally.
- close-knit family values, shown in relationships and friendships as well
- a sense of familiarity and home, made everywhere she went comfortable and cozy
- loved deeply and passionately, and did not hold back in showing it
- a strong sense of self
- could distinguish between public persona and what she wanted to do herself
- faced issues with alcoholism and many scandals, but tried to be indifferent to these accusations
It was a really unforgettable exchange, and the interview deeply resonated with me. This was easily one of my favourite experiences while doing eminent.