Singer Elton John delivered a keynote address at the 19th annual International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., Monday, calling on the public to stop marginalizing individuals with HIV/AIDS.
“Everyone deserves compassion, everyone deserves dignity. Everyone, everyone, everyone deserves love,” he said to the audience. “The AIDS disease is caused by a virus but the AIDs epidemic is not. It is fueled by stigma.”
The performer is also the founder of the Elton John AIDs Foundation, which supports HIV prevention programs, efforts to eliminate the stigma around HIV/AIDS, and care and other support services for those living with HIV/AIDS.
John explained his draw to the cause as beginning with Ryan White, a teenage hemophiliac who contracted the disease through a blood transfusion, during an interview on Andrea Mitchell Reports, which aired Monday. He noted that White’s courage helped him to get sober.
“What happened to his family disgusted me. People were in a panic,” he told host Andrea Mitchell. “They made his life miserable.”
John and others sounded a positive note on the advancement of medication and research into the debilitating disease, while still warning of its devastating effects. Sec. of State Hillary Clinton, who spoke at the conference, said: “I am here to set a goal for a generation that is free of AIDS.”
“We have this disease by the scruff of the neck now. We’ve made so many medical advances towards this disease but some people are being left behind,” John added during his interview with Mitchell, citing drug addicts, prostitutes, and prisoners. “The only way we’re going to sort this out is by being more loving toward each other. People who have cancer are treated with compassion and kindness and care and love. People with AIDS and HIV are treated sometimes, a lot of the time, with 'Don’t come near me.'”
John also called on politicians, the private sector, and “humanity” to do more.
The conference returned to the United States this week after a more than two-decade hiatus from the country after lawmakers banned travel to the U.S. by HIV positive individuals.
President Obama lifted the 22-year-old ban in 2009.
The conference, which includes activists, scientists, and policymakers from around the world, runs all week at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. Organizers expect about 25,000 attendees.
In addition to Clinton, Sec. of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius was expected to speak at the conference as were former President Bill Clinton and former first lady Laura Bush. President Obama taped a welcome video for conference participants but was not expected to attend the event.
Actress Whoopi Goldberg and philanthropist Bill Gates were also among the famous Americans listed as speakers.