Construction of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation's historic Rose Parade float honoring Elizabeth Taylor (screen capture from AHF video)
This year the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena made history: it was the first time in the parade's 123-year history, and the first time in the 30 years since HIV/AIDS was identified, that a float acknowledged those who died of AIDS and the advocates who helped them.
There was also the Occupy the Rose Parade procession, with its large copy of the U.S. Constitution, which immediately followed the organized parade. This was a negotiated presence, not a disruption, according to Occupy organizers -- unlike the disruptions from AIDS activists in 1990 and 1991 (see below for more on this, from Judy Ornelas Sisneros).
This year -- and most movingly for many -- people with HIV/AIDS were recognized via the AIDS Healthcare Foundation float that honored
two-time Academy Award-winning actress Elizabeth Taylor for her tireless, nearly three decade-long advocacy and compassion on behalf of people with HIV/AIDS. Taylor, who died March 23rd at age 79, championed HIV and AIDS programs starting in the 1980s, she co-founded the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amFAR) in 1985 and the eponymous Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation (ETAF) in 1993.
"Our Tournament of Roses Parade float is a tribute to someone who was more than a film star -- Elizabeth Taylor was a real hero and one who truly deserves all the accolades she has received," said Michael Weinstein, President of AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which provides medical care and services to more than 124,000 people in 26 countries around the globe. "Long before it was fashionable, she was there by our side -- a singular and fearless champion for AIDS activism. She spoke truth to power on a variety of issues, and her organization, which had no overhead, helped fund AHF and other AIDS organizations in Los Angeles at a time when funding was hard to come by. For her to speak out and show her compassion really changed the game
AHF's 'Our Champion' float also serves as a reminder that, though Ms. Taylor bravely stood up for people living with HIV/AIDS at an important moment in history, the AIDS epidemic is still not over and there remains much work to be done," added Weinstein.
Many of the 150,000 water vials held "AHF Memory Flowers" with inscriptions of the names of lost loved ones handwritten on the vial. AHF says their "Elizabeth Taylor: Our Champion" Parade Float was designed by award-winning float designer Raul Rodriquez and was built by the respected and award-winning Fiesta Parade floats.
"We are honored that the Executive Board of the Tournament of Roses approved our float this year and who better to honor than the late Dame Elizabeth Taylor for her leadership on AIDS," added AHF's Weinstein. "This year, the theme of the Tournament of Roses Parade is 'Just Imagine.' In honor and remembrance of Elizabeth, let's imagine and work toward a world without AIDS."
Check out this video, in which AHF talks about their Rose Parade float:
On her Facebook page Judy Ornelas Sisneros wrote last Thursday:
22 Years Ago at the Pasadena Rose Bowl Parade -- KNOW YOUR LA HISTORY!! KNOW YOUR QUEER HISTORY!! AND YOUR AIDS ACTIVISM HISTORY!
This year there will be a major presence at the Rose Bowl Parade by Occupy LA. This is not the first time a political statment has been made at this event. 22 years ago the AIDS activists group SANOE (Stop AIDS Now or Else) took action by blocking the parade in 1990.
Many thanks to Helene Schpak for pulling and scanning these documents from her archives!!
SANOE (Stop AIDS Now or ELSE) press release for 1/1/90 action
Photo of AIDS activists blocking Rose Bowl Parade
LA Times coverage
Distributed one year later on 1/1/91
A version of this post originally appeared on LGBTPOV.com.