As Karen Wolek on One Life to Live, Judith Light broke ground and won Emmys. As Angela Bower, she was an ideal mom to an entire generation of '80s children (myself included). Since shedding those two iconic roles, Judith has made a name for herself in movies, in theatre and, most important, in her work with gay rights and AIDS-related charities.
Judith had been slightly involved in AIDS-related causes before, but it wasn't until she portrayed Ryan White's mom in The Ryan White Story that she began to charge full steam ahead. Ryan, who contracted the AIDS virus through a tainted blood transfusion, was one of the first 'young faces' of AIDS in the late '80s.
"One of those things," Judith says, "one of those powerful catalysts that drove my interest to help was watching a tape of Ryan White being interviewed. The reporter asked him about the experience (of being HIV-positive), and Ryan replied: 'It's very hard. I understood that people were afraid. But sometimes, people would spit on me and call me a fag.'
"I realised, this is unconscionable. Friends were dying; we were losing people in our industry all the time. And I realised that I'm not doing anything. I saw how much homophobia was contributing to this, so I started speaking out about it."
Inspiration and a godsend
For many in the gay community, Judith has been an inspiration and a godsend because of all her work to create awareness and knowledge. But, as Judith tells me: "The truth is, I get back so much more than I give. The gay community is an inspiration to me. When confronted with this disease, they rose to a higher level. They took care of people, nurtured people. They were not operating as victims."
On July 13, here! Network, America's first premium gay television network, will be airing the 10th Annual Ribbon of Hope Celebration, where Judith will be the special honouree for her extraordinary leadership and dedication to education, awareness and finding a cure for HIV. Go to www.heretv.com or call 888-HERE-NOW to find out information and Internet links for watching the special.
"I feel incredibly honoured," Judith says. "This was a gift that came with (my work). I was never looking for acknowledgement when I began my work, but I feel so incredibly acknowledged by being given this honour. I've always felt that being a celebrity is glorious if you use it to find a way to make a difference. I see the progress that we've made, and I see that there is still much more that needs to be done."
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the discovery of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and it is a bittersweet benchmark. While much has been discovered and done in the way of finding drugs that help slow the progress of the disease and allow the person to live a longer and fuller life, there is still a long way to go.
"AIDS is still here, and many people are still in denial. There is still homophobia. If anybody is going to get anything done, all the communities will have to come together. I can't help butlook at it and see that if something had been done more quickly in the beginning, we'd have it more under control. We need to be communicating about it, about sex, about homophobia. I am still filled with sorrow that two American presidents never even spoke the word 'AIDS'. We need to let people know that they don't have to be afraid."
Since many of us aren't celebrities with a bigger platform with which to make people aware, how can we help? Judith advises: "Be a volunteer. My husband and I bake for Project Angel Food here in L.A. where we feed home-bound patients with AIDS and other illnesses. For workplaces, there are many resources available at Business Responds to AIDS/Labor Responds to AIDS. You can go their website (www.hivatwork.com) and see what people are doing within their businesses. Check with your church or temple. If you google 'AIDS services organisations,' you'll get a ton of ideas. Just volunteer."
And, as Judith so succinctly sums up: "There is no higher calling than to be of service to another human being."
- Cindy Elavsky