×

Elton John Has a Message for Struggling LGBTQ Youth: ‘Be Proud of Who You Are’

Elton John isn’t at a loss for words when asked if he has a message for young LGBTQ people who are struggling with their sexuality or gender identity.

In an exclusive interview with Variety at last month’s Cannes Film Festival, just hours before the world premiere of his long-in-the-works biopic “Rocketman,” John spoke candidly about the “privilege” of being a gay entertainer.

“Just be yourself,” says the legendary singer-songwriter-pianist, dressed in a custom powder blue Gucci suit and matching bedazzled rhinestone glasses. “Don’t let anybody do you down. I’ve been very privileged because I’m in a business that kind of accepts gay people. There are kids that aren’t privileged. They come from poor backgrounds. Their parents don’t understand; religion gives them a hard time.”

Long before there was Ellen DeGeneres, “Will & Grace” and “Pose,” there was Elton John. The singer was 29 years old and an international superstar when he told Rolling Stone in 1976 that he was bisexual. But in 1992, at age 45, he was quoted in the same magazine saying he was “quite comfortable being gay.”

Now 72, John tells Variety that he was 23 when he actually realized he was gay. “I got off to a very slow start,” he says with a laugh. “I was like the tortoise and the hare, and then suddenly the tortoise overtook the hare, and I made up for lost time.”

As “Rocketman” shows in harrowing detail, making up for lost time led to a decade-long near fatal drug addiction before John finally got sober 28 years ago. 

Over his 50-year career in music, he has earned an Oscar, a Tony and multiple Grammys and is in the middle of his retirement tour, Farewell Yellow Brick Road, which is set to end in late 2020.

John, who in 1998 was knighted by Queen Elizabeth, is also an outspoken activist, particularly around HIV and AIDS. In 1986, he teamed up with Dionne Warwick, Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder to record “That’s What Friends Are For,” with all the profits going to the American Foundation for AIDS Research. Since its start in 1993, his annual Oscar viewing party has raised more than $200 million for the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

And then there’s his family.

Elton John Illustration
CREDIT: Illustration By Marcos Chin for Variety

John and his husband, “Rocketman” producer David Furnish, have been together for more than 26 years. They were one of the first couples to register for civil
partnership in the U.K. on the same day that the Civil Partnership Act became law. Nine years later, they married on Dec. 21, 2014, just months after same-sex marriage became legal in the U.K. John and Furnish have two sons, Zachary Jackson Levon, 8, and Elijah Joseph Daniel, 6. 

It’s a far cry from John’s own childhood. His father left the family when John wasn’t even a teenager, and his mother was cold and distant. According to  “Rocketman,” she told her son he would never be truly loved because he was gay.

“It’s wonderful to be gay. I love being gay. I really do,” says John, whose first and only authorized memoir, “Me,” will be published by Macmillan in October. “And I think I wouldn’t have had the life I’ve had if I hadn’t been gay. And I’m very proud of that. I’m very proud that I can appreciate that.”

“If you’re unhappy at home, leave,” John advises. “Don’t let anybody torture you for being gay or for your sexuality.”

It’s that pride and his activism that have transformed John into an elder statesman of the LGBTQ community. He’s Yoda wrapped in a rainbow flag. “Be proud of who you are,” John says, continuing his message for young people. “There are so many wonderful diverse people in the world — straight people, gay people [and] transgender people. We’re all God’s kids. People who should know better in places of responsibility [and] attack gay people, transgender people … they claim to be close to God, [but] they couldn’t be further away from God if they tried.” 

More Music

  • Paul McCartney Has Penned Score for

    Paul McCartney Has Been Secretly Writing an 'It's a Wonderful Life' Musical

    The pop superstar who once released a movie and album called “Give My Regards to Broad Street” really does have designs on Broadway, after all. It was revealed Wednesday that Paul McCartney has already written a song score for a stage musical adaptation of the 1946 Frank Capra film classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The [...]

  • Haim Saban

    Haim Saban Pledges to Invest $500 Million to Launch Music Label

    Businessman, investor and philanthropist Haim Saban, who heads the Saban Capital Group, has pledged to invest $500 million to launch a record label. Saban Music Group (SMG) will be led by music executive Gustavo Lopez and focus on “international A&R, artist development and strategically supporting a 360 model for artists,” reads a release announcing SMG, [...]

  • Dunkirk

    Harry Styles Is the Perfect Prince Eric; Why He'd Rock 'Little Mermaid' Role

    Could Harry Styles be the perfect Prince Eric? One day after the announcement that the One Direction star is “in early negotiations to play the iconic ‘Little Mermaid’ role,” the internet exploded with speculation as to how he would portray the object of Ariel’s affections. “I can see lots of reasons why Harry is perfect,” [...]

  • Plume of black smoke rising from

    Universal Music Files Motion to Dismiss Lawsuit From Artists Claiming Fire Damage

    Universal Music Group filed a motion on Wednesday to dismiss a class-action lawsuit from attorneys representing Soundgarden, Hole, Steve Earle and the estates of Tupac and Tom Petty over master recordings reportedly destroyed in a 2008 fire, the extent of which was revealed last month in a New York Times article. UMG argues that the musicians cannot pursue a [...]

  • David Crosby

    David Crosby Says New Documentary 'Remember My Name' Is Like 'Being Naked in Public’

    “It’s not easy. It’s hard being naked in public,” David Crosby, the legendary troubadour of classic rock, reflected at Tuesday night’s New York City premiere of “David Crosby: Remember My Name.” “I don’t know what to do here. There’s no guitars, no drums,” he laughed. Directed by newcomer A.J. Eaton and produced by the legendary [...]

  • Editorial use onlyMandatory Credit: Photo by

    New Kinks Music is Underway After More Than Two Decades Apart, Dave Davies Confirms

    The road to reunion for the Kinks has been fraught with in-fighting and bitter sibling rivalry, but despite it all the band has made its way back in the recording studio. Dave Davies confirmed to Rolling Stone Tuesday that he and his brother have been recording new songs and re-recording older unreleased tracks. “This has [...]

  • After Yet Another Rejection, What Could

    After Yet Another Rejection, What Could Be Next for Woodstock 50?

    In the wake of the Town of Vernon’s third rejection of Woodstock 50’s permit application to hold its music festival at a venue in the Upstate New York municipality, one may well wonder what the troubled event’s next move might be. In the hours after the latest rejection was announced, even the optimistic-bordering-on-unrealistic producers sounded [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content