Elton John and husband David Furnish spoke on Thursday – World AIDS Day – about their efforts to encourage HIV testing and the role HIV stigma and homophobia plays in fighting the disease. “It’s our biggest obstacle, to be honest with you,” John told the BBC.
John’s comments regarding stigma came after Northern Ireland politician Sammy Wilson stated that the U.K. government spends too much money on AIDS research, while politician Trevor Clarke questioned whether heterosexuals could even get AIDS. “What planet are you on?” John wondered.
“We just got to get people tested,” John said. “We’ve implemented a program at King’s College Hospital in London where people can go into the hospital and just have a blood test, and they can have an HIV test at the same time. And most people who are doing it are willing to have that. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have an HIV test.”
John encouraged the U.K. government to support this new program from the Elton John Foundation as it would save them “millions and millions and millions of pounds every year.” “If people have these tests, they’ll be diagnosed, they’ll be put on treatment, they won’t spread the disease, and we’ll know where we stand with the population,” John said.
John and Furnish also spoke about the role homophobia plays in fostering the spread of the disease. “Driving people underground is the worst thing you can do with this disease. Leaving people behind whether they’re homosexual, intravenous drug users, prisoners or transgender is the wrong thing to do because the disease will never get cured,” John said. “We have to embrace everybody.”
John later expressed concern about what role President-elect Donald Trump would have on AIDS research and treatment, but declined to pass judgment before Trump took office. “You don’t know how much the progress that’s been made is going to be reversed, so that is a scary thing,” John said. “We live in scary times.”
“We’ve come so far, the end is in sight. If the governments of the world take their foot off the accelerator and stop funding, then we will never beat this disease,” John warned. “It will just balloon again and become another catastrophe. It is a catastrophe; it will get worse like it was 20 years ago. So we need governments to keep their mandates about AIDS.”
In response to the Irish politicians’ aforementioned comments, British Prime Minister Theresa May issued a statement where she called HIV stigma “an unacceptable stain on our society.”
“But for all the progress in treatment and prevention, public attitudes have not progressed as far or as fast,” May said. “The latest UK HIV Stigma Index found that almost 1 in 5 respondents living with HIV in the UK have had suicidal thoughts in the past 12 months. While around half reported feelings such as shame, guilt and low self-esteem in relation to their HIV status. This stigma is an unacceptable stain on our society and we have to wipe it out. Stigma is not just profoundly wrong. It also prevents many of those affected from accessing the testing, treatment and support that they need.”
Watch Elton John discuss the AIDS stigma.