Twenty Years Later, a Speech and Legacy that Live on

By Jane Coaston | July 12, 2012

Elizabeth and Ariel Glaser

EGPAF

Twenty years ago this weekend, Elizabeth Glaser gave a landmark speech on the AIDS epidemic at the Democratic National Convention in New York City.

I watched this speech for the first time in February. At the time, I hadn’t yet started work at the Foundation, and I didn’t know very much about Elizabeth Glaser.

I’m 24 years old. I was born the year that AZT was approved for use by people living with HIV. I didn’t see the AIDS crisis in America first-hand – my early years were right when the first effective drug cocktails were made available, when Magic Johnson went public with his HIV status, and when the tide of the disease began to turn.

My parents lost friends, and they’d tell stories about neighbors who disappeared. They have several cherished antiques that belonged to a young friend down the street who watched his partner die before succumbing to the disease himself.

But I grew up largely unaware of AIDS.

Elizabeth was not so lucky.

When she gave this speech on July 14, 1992, she was fighting for her life and for the life of her son, Jake.

She lost her daughter, Ariel, four years prior. She would lose her own battle against AIDS two-and-a half years after.

In the speech, when she says, “Today, I am here because it's a matter of life and death,” she means it.

Elizabeth Glaser saw the worst of the AIDS crisis in the United States – fear and lack of awareness had caused thousands of men, women, and children to lose their lives.

But she and others like her – including Mary Fisher, who spoke at the Republican National Convention that year – refused to give in.

When there were no drug options for children, she helped create them. When there was no money for research into pediatric HIV, she raised it. She and her friends launched a foundation intended to fight for children living with HIV everywhere, and to provide much needed research and support to prevent other mothers from losing their children to AIDS.

Twenty years later, the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation has provided millions of women and children around the world with life-saving services and care. From Côte d’Ivoire to Mozambique, EGPAF has helped hundreds of thousands of mothers give birth to HIV-negative babies, and has provided vital support for children and young adults growing up with HIV.

Elizabeth Glaser may not have seen what became of the foundation she started, but her impact is felt globally – and in our office in Washington, D.C. – every single day.

As I watch this speech again on its twentieth anniversary, I want to thank Elizabeth for her courage, grace, strength, and passion.

Through her pain, she gave the world a tremendous gift. Her legacy continues to live on.

Jane Coaston is Media Relations Coordinator for the Foundation, based in Washington, D.C.