Superstar Elton John has been a long-time supporter of the fight against AIDS, and he’s back at it again with an op-ed he wrote for Billboard Magazine‘s first ever philanthropy issue. John talks about the history of AIDS and his own personal history with it; he is not HIV positive but has watched people dear to his heart fall to the epidemic.
Elton John brings up the fact that AIDS was initially seen as a disease that only gay people got and spread around. He talks about the lack of support and help for men who contracted HIV back in the 1980s. Rather than being treated or empathized with, homosexuals who found themselves with HIV/AIDS were seen as pariahs by their own friends and families, and without any treatment available they were left for dead.
John first came out as gay in the 1970s, before anyone really knew about the HIV virus and AIDS. As both a supporter and a member of the gay community, Elton had many close friends who were also gay. In his piece for Billboard, he recalled dozens of them contracting the virus and suffering, and he described the experience as “horrible,” due to the fact that people he loved were in pain and dying and there wasn’t anything that he could do for them.
John says that this was what made him want to get involved. First by volunteering and speaking out publicly to raise HIV/AIDS awareness, but later starting his own foundation to raise money for and support of those who found themselves carrying HIV/AIDS. The foundation was called the Elton John AIDS foundation, and was officially founded in 1992 in the United States. A United Kingdom chapter came about one year later, in 1993. Of his foundation, John said he aimed to “provide care and support and comfort, and fight the injustices faced by those living with HIV/AIDS.” He went on to say that he wanted people with HIV/AIDS “to know they mattered and that someone cared.”
Elton John had the help of many people on his quest; among them were celebrities like Larry Kramer and Elizabeth Taylor. Back when the foundation was started, as John documents in his op-ed, AIDS was “the biggest public health crisis in the world.” He attributes this to homophobia and the general public’s unwillingness to stand by those who got sick rather than blame them based on their lifestyle choices.
Things, thankfully, have changed since then. The Elton John AIDS foundation is 23-years-old now, and people are educated about the virus and how to avoid it. Even those who have the illness can manage it like never before with the use of advanced medicine. Things are undoubtedly much better than they have ever been before.
The point of Elton John’s piece isn’t just to point out how far we’ve come, though. It’s to bring attention to the fact that we still have quite a long way to go. John sheds light on the fact that not everyone in the world has access to these medical advances, and that plenty of people don’t even have access to the proper education regarding this issue.
Elton believes that if his organization and other people who support the cause continue to push forward and work hard, things can continue to improve. He recognizes the fact that his star status and his prominence in the music industry specifically provide him with the ability to reach the ears and minds of many, and plans to continue speaking out and reaching as far as he can for this cause.
“My greatest hope,” he writes, ” is to live to see the day when we win the fight once and for all.”
[Main image courtesy of Alex Wong / Getty images]