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Activism Changed Elton John. Then Elton John Changed the World

Elton John 5

Two iconic rock stars: Freddie Mercury and John in London, circa 1985. Mercury would die of AIDS complications six years later.

The Path Forward

John also finds hope in the new understanding that “people living with HIV who are taking effective medications that reduce their viral loads below detectable levels do not pass on the disease to others. In other words, treatment is prevention. This [is] a huge development.”

He says the fact that treatment can lead to undetectable viral loads and inability to pass HIV to others should “establish a moral imperative to provide universal access to HIV testing for everyone, and to make sure all HIV-positive people have easy access to effective treatment right away, both to preserve and improve their health and to prevent further HIV transmission. The media should be holding politician’s feet to the fire about this, and they aren’t. Getting people tested and on treatment is quite literally the most important thing we can do right now to end the AIDS epidemic.”

That doesn’t mean the current political situation isn’t concerning. “Any budget that cuts spending on health care and medical research… and throws 22 million people off of their health insurance are recipes for disaster,” John says. “My greatest fear and sorrow is... many people won’t have access to [lifesaving medicines]. It is unjust and inhumane.” He says he still believes, as his 2012 book Love is the Cure posited, that while a miraculous vaccine would be nice, HIV must be cured by changing hearts and minds.

“Even if we had a cure right now, we would never be able to get it to the people who really need it unless we open our hearts and minds… [and support] sex workers, drug users, LGBT people, and prisoners,” John says. “Ending AIDS is all about getting us to really understand that… we must help everyone, regardless of who they are, who they love, where they’re from, or what they do.”

Furnish agrees. “HIV will continue to survive and thrive as long as society continues to shun, marginalize, and abandon people who don’t conform to societal norms or who do things deemed socially unacceptable. We must learn how to provide help without judging people for living their authentic lives.”

Moving forward, Furnish believes that the only way “we can truly be defeated is if we give up. I know things look bleak now, but we only have to look back to the horror of the 1980s to know that things could be so much worse. We can find our way back to civil discourse and bipartisan partnerships for the greater good. Especially now when we can link our arms in solidarity with other causes. Because the Black Lives Matter movement… the LGBT rights movement… and the women’s health and rights movement [are all] part of ending AIDS. Whether you realize it or not, we are all in this together.”

That’s a sentiment his husband echoes frequently. It gives the music man — and the many contributors to his foundation — hope.

“You know, scientists have shown us that birds fly faster in flocks than they can on their own,” John muses, “because the flock shares the burden of wind drag, constantly shifting those in the lead, and enabling the entire group to fly faster and more efficiently. It’s an excellent metaphor for why we are all stronger when we work together.”


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