"Anywhere I see suffering, that is where I need to be, doing what I can."
On July 1,1961, the Honourable Diana Frances Spencer was born at the Sandringham Estate, Norfolk, England. No one could have foreseen that a modern-day hero had just been born. Lady Diana Spencer, as she became in 1975, after her father succeeded to become the Eighth Earl Spencer, was to transform into one of the most loved people in the world.
Diana moved to London in 1978, and by 1981 she was completing her first official tour with the Prince of Wales. They married that July in an event that can only be described by a gay man such as myself as "fabulous."
Shortly after her wedding, the direction that Diana wished to pursue became apparent when she set up a trust in her own name, which was a mechanism for her to donate her own money to others. Diana was a formidable woman with a heart the size of the moon. She wanted to help wherever she was needed and dedicated her time to those less fortunate.
After the birth of her two sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, Diana's attention shifted toward many causes that she believed needed help, attention, and devotion, including HIV and AIDS. She often favored causes where there was a stigma attached, and she strived to break down the walls and to spread new light to those who needed it.
Diana was among the first high-profile humanitarians to highlight for the world that the HIV was not communicable by touch. She conveyed this message in 1987 in the most concrete way possible, by holding hands with an AIDS patient. This simple act, coupled with the fact that palace aides tried to dissuade her from doing so, brought even more welcome attention to the plight. In a time when many were dying of the disease, the stigma attached was almost immeasurable. Diana, however, was her own woman with her own views, and she would not be held accountable to those who did not share her passion for helping others.
Her love for people continued throughout her life, whether by visiting those suffering from leprosy in Indonesia, spending time with abandoned children in Sao Paulo, or holding babies suffering from AIDS in Harlem. She also often spent time at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London, usually up to four hours at a time, visiting the sick and the dying. She had an incredibly close bond with Mother Teresa and even visited the nun's hospice in India, where Diana spent time with each of the 50 patients who were close to dying.
When you read facts like this, you can easily understand why she received more than one humanitarian award during her short lifetime. Diana spread love wherever she went. Her dedication to those suffering with HIV/AIDS and to the gay community solidified her place as one of the most compassionate women of her time. She was not without criticism, but in this day and age, who isn't? In the face of such criticism, however, she was often seen laughing, holding hands, and joking with those who needed it most.
Diana was a determined individual: determined to change the world, and determined to be the champion of the AIDS pandemic, along with some of her celebrity acquaintances, such as Elton John and Elizabeth Taylor. Elton John himself said recently that "Princess Diana made a hell of a difference," and that was borne out by her actions. For example, in 1997 she auctioned off 79 of her dresses, raising over $3.25 million dollars for both AIDS and cancer charities.
Not one to be afraid to stand up and be counted, she often spoke out in support of the less-than-popular situations of those suffering from AIDS and leprosy. One of the greatest gifts she gave to the world was the fact that the world took notice of this demure, beautiful woman with a mission.
It was (and is) surely a sad state of affairs for those suffering from HIV/AIDS that they faced rejection and were treated with such disdain. Fortunately this was the type of cause Diana was drawn to. As she said, "HIV does not make people dangerous to know, so you can shake their hands and give them a hug. Heaven knows they need it." Diana was acutely aware that she could bring much-needed attention to their plight from the highest rank of society: a member of the royal family.
Her work with the National AIDS Trust, starting from 1991 right up to her untimely death in 1997, projected to the world that this was a global fight against a terrible disease and not something that should be feared. She attacked it head on. She was so dedicated to the National AIDS Trust that it was one of only six charities she officially supported toward the end of her life. It was also one of the beneficiaries of funds raised by her sons at the "Concert for Diana" in 2007, which marked the 10-year anniversary of her death.
For the gay community (including me) there was much sympathy and empathy for Diana's personal life and her work. Back in the day when HIV/AIDS was considered very much a "gay disease" because of its prolific presence within the gay community, people identified not only with her but with her desire to help the cause. Of course, her appeal to the gay community wasn't hurt by all her glamour, stunning dresses, and ritzy showbiz pals, many of whom were gay themselves.
But two of her greatest legacies are of course her sons William and Harry, who have taken over much of her role. As patrons and supporters of AIDS charities, as well as many others that their mother was involved with, they continue to bring light to causes otherwise ignored. They have also gone in their own direction, Prince Harry recently supporting rugby stars Ben Cohen's Standup Foundation, which tackles homophobia in sports.
Whether you're gay, straight, bisexual, or transgender, we can all share some connection to this wonderful lady. For every person in the world who has the desire to do well, to give back to those less fortunate, or help those who simply need a helping hand, the memory of Diana is a shining beacon of hope. She may not be with us in the physical sense, but her spirit undoubtedly lives on in the hearts and minds of everyone she touched along the way.
Diana knew how to change the world with one hug, one touch, one smile at a time, and she did just that. When we know better, we do better, and it is a lesson to us all to show compassion and love to those who need it most.
"Carry out a random act of kindness with no expectation of reward, safe in the knowledge that one day someone might do the same for you." --Diana
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