Health Heroes

Elizabeth Glaser

by Elizabeth from San Diego

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At the beginning of 1986, a New York Times/CBS poll found that forty-seven percent of Americans believed they could contract HIV-AIDS through sharing drinking water with an infected person (Glaser and Palmer 60). It was also the year Elizabeth Glaser and son, Jake, tested HIV-positive; her eldest child, Ariel, was diagnosed with AIDS. Concluding a difficult pregnancy, Glaser, wife of actor and director Paul Michael Glaser, hemorrhaged after giving birth and received a blood transfusion that she would later learn was contaminated with the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV. Transferring the disease to her daughter through breast milk and her son in utero three years later, the Glasers only learned of their infection after Ariel, then age four, grew sickly and went through multiple tests at the hospital. They soon discovered very little was known about the virus and even less about how it affected children (Glaser and Palmer 198). After Ariel's death in 1988, Glaser, outraged and aggrieved, was spurred into action and began a near decade-long battle for increased awareness of pediatric AIDS, before she, too, succumbed to the virus in 1994. During a period of ignorance and persecution, Elizabeth Glaser's indomitable leadership, tireless dedication, and relentless effort to achieve equality for those with HIV-AIDS placed her center stage as a beacon of hope for the beleaguered and forgotten. 

Founders of The Pediatric AIDS Foundation (
Founders of The Pediatric AIDS Foundation (

Elizabeth Glaser's initiative to take charge made her a strong and outspoken leader for pediatric AIDS. After her first trip to Washington to seek out a stronger HIV-AIDS policy, Glaser became increasingly concerned with the government's budget for AIDS and their ability to fund crucial research efficiently: "In my Government 101 course on the way Washington works, I had learned that once money is appropriated, it still takes eighteen months to two years before it gets where it's going. It only took a firm grasp of the obvious to know that the government was not capable of moving fast enough to make a difference for children who had AIDS now" (Glaser and Palmer 151). Glaser, appalled by the lack of support offered by the government, could not contemplate standing by idly while her daughter and many other children were fighting for their lives every day, waiting desperately for help that could never come. Reaching this conclusion, she was compelled to take action, and with the help of her friends, Susan De Laurentis and Susie Zeegen, formed The Pediatric AIDS Foundation ("Activist for AIDS Treatment"). Glaser discovered a lack of leadership and resolved to remedy it, creating her own solution to get the necessary funding she needed to help combat the inefficiencies of Congress. She started the charge into new AIDS research because she could not wait for others to get organized. After Ariel's death, Glaser's resolve to be a catalyst for change strengthened and she continued to find ways to make an impact: "She was chosen to speak at the 1992 convention only after confronting Mr. Clinton's campaign chairman...and telling him, 'I have words inside me that I have to share'" (Kennedy). Seeing an opportunity to make headway in convincing the government that HIV-AIDS was a prominent issue, she took the necessary steps to secure that AIDS would get the attention it so greatly needed by facing those with power directly. To Glaser, being ignored was not an option. She did not trust anyone else to address the issue with the necessary gravity it deserved and knew she had to be the person to discuss the situation in full, less it never be mentioned at all. Glaser's success was deeply rooted within her own need to play an active part in what she believed in, branding her as a force to be reckoned with and a true crusader for her cause.            

Elizabeth Glaser and husband, Paul Michael Glaser ( ())
Elizabeth Glaser and husband, Paul Michael Glaser ( ())

Glaser devoted her entire being to campaigning for pediatric AIDS. During the infancy of her foundation, every waking moment was spent securing funds and making connections, all without an official office or overhead: "We had almost raised our first million dollars, without stationary, business cards, or a telephone. We were using Susan's [De Laurentis] address and telephone number at the time and...all of our operating expenses came from our own pockets...we planned strategies around kitchen tables when our children were in school and while our husbands were at work" (Glaser and Palmer 214). Glaser refused to let a lack of a formal workplace stand in the way of obtaining the financing she needed and made up for it by tackling her task head on. Committed to getting the foundation going, she used her own money and networking skills to bypass the presented obstacles of a new organization, while spending any spare moments she had conferring with friends, disregarding any time for herself. Glaser split her full schedule between fundraising for research and lobbying for new HIV-AIDS policies and legislation. During her 1992 Democratic National Convention Address, Glaser outlined her fight in Washington: "I went to Washington to tell Presidents Reagan and Bush that much, much more had to be done for AIDS research and care, and that children couldn't be forgotten. The first time, when nothing happened, I thought, 'They just didn't hear me.' The second time, when nothing happened, I thought, 'Maybe I didn't shout loud enough.' But now I realize they don't hear because they don't want to listen.'" Despite being unheeded time and again, Glaser did not capitulate and return home to wallow in her failure. She continued to go to Washington, to give speeches, so that the voices of HIV-AIDS sufferers would be heard. She would not settle for just having tried - her goal was to succeed in overseeing a change in the way the government was run, and she could not rest until she did. Through her meticulous diligence and hard work, Glaser guaranteed that the government would turn a blind eye to AIDS no longer, and be forced to work on new HIV-AIDS policies and education.             

Elizabeth Glaser and daughter, Ariel ( ())
Elizabeth Glaser and daughter, Ariel ( ())
Glaser fought unwaveringly to extinguish the many misconceptions and stigma surrounding HIV-AIDS sufferers. She and her family, having been subject to the prejudice and fear surrounding those with HIV-AIDS, were not unfamiliar with the unjust treatment given to many with the disease. It was during a prolonged stay in the hospital at UCLA while her daughter was still alive but in worsening condition when Glaser first took a stance against the fallacies believed at the time. Observing nurses who would wear gloves for "no apparent reason" when treating her daughter, she read-up on the hospital's HIV-AIDS policy and discovered the nurses were wearing gloves even when they didn't have to. Angered by their actions, she denied access to their room for any nurses wearing "gloves or masks inappropriately," and informed them, "either they removed the gloves or they didn't enter Ari's [Ariel's] room" (Glaser and Palmer 101).  Glaser could not stand the dehumanizing manner in which Ariel was treated while at the hospital, and exercised her rights to keep her daughter's environment as accepting as possible. Knowing the nurses' actions were unacceptable and degrading, she refused to support their behavior and steadfastly upheld her principles of equality. By enforcing her conditions with the nurses, she made others reconsider their own outlook on the virus and helped alter mindsets to realize those with HIV-AIDS were people, first and foremost. Glaser took her concerns to the national level during her speech at the 1992 Democratic National Convention. Solemnly staring out at the crowd, she began describing her story, live on television: "I started out just a mom -- fighting for the life of her child. But along the way I learned how unfair America can be today, not just for people who have HIV, but for many, many people -- poor people, gay people, people of color, children. A strange spokesperson for such a group: a well-to-do white woman. But I have learned my lesson the hard way, and I know that America has lost her path and is at risk of losing her soul. America wake up: we are all in a struggle between life and death" ("Elizabeth Glaser 1992 Democratic National Convention Address"). By widening the scope of her address, Glaser related herself to all of those struggling with adversity to include everyone in her fight. Glaser implored the audience to realize that regardless of age, ethnicity or class, they were all Americans and they had to be unified if any progress was to be made. She presented the populace with the knowledge that HIV could affect anyone, not just "gay men" and "drug abusers" (Behrens), and that perpetuating stereotypes would only hinder America in formulating new treatments and developing a cure for the disease. Glaser witnessed all that was erroneous with the mindset at the time and canvassed doggedly for a more educated, promising tomorrow.             
Despite what appeared to be a futile struggle, Glaser rose to the occasion, throwing everything she possessed into bettering the odds for those too young to speak up. Her foundation has, to date, over 7,300 sites worldwide and "supported programs" that "have reached nearly 18 million women with services to prevent the transmission of HIV to their babies" ("Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation"). Glaser's legacy has lived on, and much that she set out to accomplish has been achieved. Her single-minded ferocity made a difference in a time where it seemed like the entire world was against her. No matter the trial or tribulation, Glaser did not surrender; she did not pack up and go home, content with the knowledge that she tried. She decided she would shoulder the responsibility of providing for the many children so greatly in need of assistance, and followed through so that they would be taken care of. However, what inspired me the most about Glaser was that she never pretended to be anything other than what she was. In the core of every argument she presented, she maintained her driving force: helping children. She did not get a taste of fame and lose her sense of purpose. Glaser was a woman on a mission and there was nothing more important than that, not when lives were on the line. Heroes are defined by their ability to motivate others with their actions and instill hope into the hearts of those who need it the most. Glaser's own beacon still burns bright, her impact living past her own lifetime to continue to guide those alive today.
Works Cited 
04, December. "Elizabeth Glaser, Activist for AIDS Treatment, Dies at 47." Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 04 Dec. 1994. Web. 28 Mar. 2014. . 
Baum, Geraldine. "A Star in the AIDS War : Elizabeth Glaser Has Become an Unlikely but Premier Lobbyist in the Campaign against a Killer." Los Angeles Times 21 Mar. 1990: n. pag. Los Angeles Times, 2014. Web. 21 Mar. 2014. .
Behrens, Leigh. "Elizabeth Glaser." Chicago Tribune. Chicago Tibune, 21 Apr. 1991. Web. 23 Mar. 2014. . 
"Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation." EGPAF RSS. Pediatric AIDS Foundation, 2014. Web. 22 Mar. 2014. . 
Glaser, Elizabeth. "Elizabeth Glaser 1992 Democratic National Convention Address." 1992 Democratic National Convention. New York. 14 July 1992. American Rhetoric. Web. 22 Mar. 2014. . 
Glaser, Elizabeth, and Laura Palmer. In the Absence of Angels: A Hollywood Family's Courageous Story. New York: Putnam, 1991. Print. 
Kennedy, Randy. "Elizabeth Glaser Dies at 47; Crusader for Pediatric AIDS." The New York Times. The New York Times, 4 Dec. 1994. Web. 17 Mar. 2014. . 

Page created on 4/16/2014 12:00:00 AM

Last edited 7/8/2020 6:43:35 AM

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Related Links

Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation - Find out more about research being done on Pediatric AIDS
The Official Website of Paul Michael Glaser - Visit for more information about Elizabeth and work Paul is doing to further research
In the Absence of Angels - Read Elizabeth's first hand account in her book
1992 Democratic National Address - Watch Elizabeth give her 1992 Democratic National Address