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Harvard University Honors Elton John for his AIDS Activism

by Redaktie in General , 13 December 2017

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar

Last November at a festive ceremony, Elton John was awarded the Harvard Foundation’s Peter J. Gomes Humanitarian Award at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

This prize was awarded to Elton John as a tribute to his work with the Elton John AIDS Foundation (EJAF) in support of innovative HIV prevention, awareness programs, direct care and support services for people living with HIV. Elton John founded EJAF in 1992 in de United States and a year later in Great Britain. So far, the foundation has raised 385 million dollars, supporting HIV and AIDS projects in at least fifty-five countries.

For his AIDS activism, Elton John was inspired by his contacts with Ryan White and White’s family. Ryan White (1971-1990) was an American teenager who became infected with HIV through a blood transfusion. After his diagnosis in December 1984, he faced a lot of discrimination. Not only was he kicked out of school, but his house was also fired at. However, Ryan and his family did not resign to these acts of violence and discrimination, but sought publicity.

He became a regular guest in Phil Donahue’s talk show, and many celebrities, including Greg Louganis, Michael Jackson, Elton John, and Nancy and Ronald Reagan, publicly appeared alongside him to fight the stigma on contact and being in the vicinity of people with AIDS. In the 1980s, AIDS was mostly seen as a “gay disease” and therefore a “gay problem” politicians should not be too concerned with. Ryan White’s diagnoses and his public appearances caused a major shift in the public opinion in the United States.

Elton John visited Ryan White when he was in the hospital on his death bed. In his Harvard speech, he stated that the fact that he saw up close how Ryan and his family dealt with opposition and discrimination had inspired him to turn his own life around. “Ryan was the spark that helped me recover from my addictions and led to me to start the Elton John AIDS Foundation.”

The fame and success of the music industry also had a dark side, Elton John confessed at Harvard: “Happiness became elusive and darkness crept in. Along the way, I lost my own humanity in a cesspool of excess, drugs, alcohol addiction, and an eating disorder and self-absorption.” Because of his involvement in Ryan’s fate and the possibilities he saw for humanitarian purposes, his “life took on a vastly new meaning and relevance. Today my mission is to help other people embrace their own humanity and that of others. It’s the most powerful and positive force in the whole wide world.”

Elton John admitted that there are still many obstacles on the road to a just world in which everyone has the same opportunities. He referred to increasing violence against transgender people, among other issues, after which he stated: “I promise you, we can rise above it and lift people up. We can pull together, we can change the world. It all starts with embracing our common humanity. It’s the most powerful force on earth. I promise you I will never give up, and I hope you never give up. We are in this together.”

Elton John’s speech was greeted with a standing ovation. The Harvard sophomore Kacey Gill expressed the general feeling in the hall: “There are very few people in this world who can embody light when surrounded by darkness. Thank you for being that person. Thank you for dedicating your time, your mind, and your heart to spreading that light anywhere and everywhere you go.”


In our youngest issue, Gay News 344, April/ May/ June 2020


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