Terry Sullivan Taylor was born in Charlotte in 1941. She graduated from Watts Hospital School of Nursing in Durham in 1959. While Terry was in nursing school, her sister Tonda "came out" a lesbian. Her parents reacted as most parents reacted to this news in 1959—they sent her to a psychiatrist to “get straighten out.” It would take another 14 years before the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association declared that homosexuality was not a disorder that needed to be cured.
In the early1980s, while working as an emergency room nurse at Charlotte Memorial Hospital she cared for her first AIDS patient. At that time, HIV/AIDS was commonly misunderstood and feared. In the popular press, AIDS was a disease of the “four H club” – homosexuals, heroin addicts, haemophiliacs, and Haitians At the same time Terry was learning about HIV/AIDS as a nurse, the disease hit her family hard. Ironically, it was not Tonda, her lesbian sister, who was diagnosed with the disease, but her heterosexual brothe, who received tainted blood transfusions to fight cancer and her physician father who died of HIV/AIDS.
Shortly after their deaths, Terry married and moved to Boone. Within a few months, Taylor started the first Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) chapter in the region. She recalls, " The negative, hateful phone calls were constant and letters were written in response to my articles[in the local newspaper] that were vindictive and judgmental”. Things became more contentious when people with HIV/AIDS began being diagnosed in Boone. Taylor recalled her encounter with the first AIDS patient at the local hospital.
It was March 1989. The patient was an exchange student from Zaire. My husband asked me if I would visit him in the hospital. I went the next day. Signs were on the door to gown up, put on gloves, and a mask before entering the room. I chose not to do that. I walked in, introduced myself and sat by the bedside. He said nothing for a long time. I said “I thought you might need a friend.” He turned his head to look at me and said, “I’ve been praying for a friend–you’re not what I expected, but thank you.
Soon after this meeting, Taylor invited health care professionals, people with HIV/AIDS, local clergy and other interested people to her home to establish the HOPE Support Group. HOPE volunteers cared for AIDS patients in their homes and the hospital, Volunteers spent time with people who were rejected by thier families, even as they lay dying.
Word of Taylor’s work with HIV/AIDS patients spread. In 1989, she presented a workshop at the PFLAG Task Force on AIDS National Conference in Washington, DC. It was so well received that for the next decade was spent significant amounts of time traveling around the country speaking about HIV/AIDS. Taylor described one significant moment during these years.
My job was to open hearts and minds through personal experiences I had with people with AIDS. One of the best compliments I received was the night I was ready to go to the podium at George Mason University. Before I was introduced, the leader of the conference whispered to me “I was up here on this stage three weeks ago introducing Bill Clinton. I was given no instructions. For your presentation I was told to be sure all the name tags of those in the audience were written with permanent ink so it wouldn’t run down their shirts when their tears hit them.
Even during her busiest travel years, Taylor remained a leader in the local PFLAG and HOPE chapters. Her home was always open to anyone needing a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear, or an embrace. Her compassion and dedication to those marginalized by society, because of a frightening fatal disease, illuminate the highest calling in nursing. She was willing to risk her reputation, her livelihood and her life for those needing her care.
- Pollitt, P. (2020). Terry Taylor, RN: Courageous HIV/AIDS Activist. Tar Heel Nurse. 2020;83(5):10. Publisher version of record available at: https://ncnurses.org/resources/document-library/tar-heel-nurse/ (PDF available at https://libres.uncg.edu/ir/asu/f/Pollitt_Phoebe_2020_Terry%20Taylor_RN.pdf)
- Sykes, M. (2021, April 27). Angel of an Epidemic. Our State. Available at https://www.ourstate.com/angel-of-an-epidemic/