Skip to main content

Who can forget the January 2, 2012 presence of Occupy LA at the 113th Tournament of Roses Parade? Protesters marched against corporate person-hood and the foreclosure crisis.

2012 rose parade our champion float

However, I want to remind you of January 1, 1990, 22 years ago, when “Only 10 minutes after it started, the 101st Tournament of Roses Parade came to a momentary halt when 14 AIDS activists staged a sit-down protest on Colorado Boulevard in front of the Spirit of America’s ‘First Symbols of Freedom’ float. At 8:20 a.m., the protesters emerged from the crowd of spectators on the sidewalk and unfurled a banner...members of the crowd booed and jeered the protesters.” (Los Angeles Times, Hector Tobar)

The protest action was the work of SANOE, Stop AIDS Now Or Else.

Speaking out recently, Glassell Park resident Helene Schpak, one of those arrested, said, “I'm so pleased, Carl, that you appreciate the historic importance of this action. 22 years ago there was no asking permission from the Rose Parade officials to allow us to tag along at the end of their parade to make a statement about people dying of AIDS complications. The climate at the time put a cold chill on even mentioning HIV/AIDS. With so many lives already lost and more on the line, SANOE felt compelled to place the issue where people couldn't avoid it.”

SANOE protesters at 1990 Rose Parade

SANOE protesters at 1990 Rose Parade

As Tobar wrote, “Pasadena police and Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies moved quickly on the protesters, dragging them from the parade route to a nearby side street. The demonstrators had linked themselves together with a single 30-foot chain, and the nine men and five women slid and bounced heavily along the ground as the officers pulled them from the street.”

Times have changed!

In a historic decision, the 2012 Board of Directors of the Tournament of Roses invited AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) to have an official float in the parade! It was the first float in the 123-year history of the parade to focus on HIV/AIDS. The float was named “Our Champion” in honor of two-time Academy Award-winning actress Elizabeth Taylor for her nearly three decades of advocacy for people with HIV/AIDS. Taylor, who died March 23, 2011, co-founded the American Foundation for AIDS Research (amFAR) in 1985 and the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation (ETAF) in 1993.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

“Our Rose Parade float is a tribute to someone who was more than a film star - Elizabeth Taylor was a real hero,” said Michael Weinstein, President of AHF, the 25-year old organization which provides medical services to more than 124,000 people in 26 countries. The float won the “Queen’s Trophy.”

(The 2012 Rose Parade was seen by approximately 50 million Americans and millions of others in more than 200 international territories and countries.)

Grants from ETAF provided AHF’s “Ithembalabantu” Clinic (Zulu for “people’s hope”) in Durban, South Africa, free lifesaving antiretroviral treatment for AIDS at a time when treatment was not widely available in poor countries. Just as she had in the earliest days, Ms. Taylor became an international leader in the fight against AIDS.

According to a 1990 SANOE press release, “Organizers of today’s emergency action expressed renewed commitment to spur federal action that would end the AIDS Epidemic. ‘We have been fighting ignorance and denial on the AIDS front line for most of ten years now,’ said Gunther Freehill, one of those arrested this morning. Today, on the threshold of a new decade, Americans can neither ignore the terrible toll AIDS has taken, nor deny the urgency of preventing more deaths. We can make 1990 the year that ends AIDS.”

Two years later, in 1992, the first “cocktails” (combination drug therapies) for fighting HIV were introduced. In 1995, new types of protease inhibitors became available and death rates due to AIDS plummeted in the developed world. Schpak said, “It's my strong opinion that the covert actions of SANOE supported the overt actions of ACTUP and together they helped push cocktail therapies onto an accelerated path toward clinical trails.”

“AHF’s float served as a reminder that Ms. Taylor bravely stood up for people living with HIV/AIDS at an important moment in history. The AIDS epidemic is still not over,” warned Weinstein, “there remains much work to be done.”

carl matthes

Finishing, Weinstein said, “This year, the theme of the Rose Parade is ‘Just Imagine.’ In honor and remembrance of Elizabeth, let’s imagine and work toward a world without AIDS.”

Carl Matthes