Multiplatinum-selling and Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Elton John (he’s also won an Oscar and a Tony) is founder of the Elton John AIDS Foundation. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1998 for his work in music and as a fund-raiser for AIDS charities.
This past December, I married the love of my life, David Furnish. In a world where nearly 3 billion people live in countries that outlaw homosexuality, and where gay marriage is legal in only 21 nations, David and I know how lucky we are to love one another openly, proudly and legally.
But for the millions of gay people hoping, praying and fighting to one day have the opportunity to wed, their struggle is about more than the right to marry — it’s about equality. The goal of the gay-rights movement is less about walking down the aisle, and more about walking down the street — with dignity, with pride, and without fear of harassment or discrimination.
Sadly, discrimination is a terrible fact of life for the vast majority of gay people, and many don’t realize how deadly that discrimination can be. In the 23 years since I founded the Elton John AIDS Foundation, I’ve seen again and again how the fight against HIV/AIDS is deeply and profoundly tied to discrimination and injustice.
Communities that are stigmatized and discriminated against are always — always — the most vulnerable to the AIDS epidemic. They are disproportionately impacted for the simple reason that discrimination prevents them from having equal access to healthcare and critical social services. That’s why, today, one in two gay black men in the United States will have HIV by the time they are 35. It’s why transgender women in America are 34 times more likely than non-transgender individuals to be HIV-positive.
The link between discrimination and HIV is clear. To fight AIDS, therefore, we must fight injustice. We must work together to address the inequality at the heart of many social challenges, from poverty to drugs, and from illiteracy to incarceration. It’s easy to think of each of these issues in isolation, but in truth they share the same root cause.
And that’s why the fight for marriage equality is so very important. It isn’t just about marriage. And it isn’t just about the gay community. It’s about the need for all people, everywhere, to have the same rights and protections under the law. It’s about the need for all people, everywhere, to be treated with compassion and dignity. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
The entertainment industry has a critical role to play in bringing about a more just and equal world. Music and film connect people of all races, sexual orientations, nationalities and religions. Art can give voice to the voiceless and hope to the hopeless. Our industry has inspired and must continue to inspire social change through brilliant films like “Selma,” “Milk” and “Dallas Buyers Club.”
I am so proud of the role that my fellow performers and musicians, as well as caring businesspeople in our industry, have played in advocating for gay rights and marriage equality. But gay marriage is one fight in the long struggle against discrimination and inequality that we must — and will — carry on.