By Danielle Lagow

When someone hears of a person having AIDS, many negative thoughts and questions seem to naturally rise about that individual. “Are they gay? Are they a prostitute? Are they an obsessive drug user?” These negative judgments are what music icon Elton John says must be removed before the disease can be cured.

Even though medical treatments have advanced, we’re still living in a world that spends too much time being ashamed of and dwelling upon the disease rather than spending time on getting rid of it.

“A lot of people are still very bigoted about this disease, and it’s our biggest opponent: Trying to break these people down,” Elton said at Washington’s XIX International AIDS Conference on July 23. “It’s such a treatable disease…The end is in sight for this disease, medically. But if we don’t go hand-in-hand with the stigma problem, along with the medical advancement, then we’re never going to defeat it…And the way we do that is to be more compassionate, more understanding, more loving towards each other. We have to change attitudes.”

According to a recent article from NPR, in the 1980s, Elton was a living the life of a rock star, soaking up drugs daily while several of his friends and family members were struggling with AIDS and HIV. He ignored the harsh reality with his drug-filled lifestyle, and stood idly by doing nothing while he watched those he cared about suffer and eventually die from these horrible diseases.

It wasn’t until Elton met a teenage hemophiliac named Ryan White that he decided to make a change. Elton watched the boy as he was shunned from his very own community after being diagnosed with HIV. And after much suffering both physically and mentally, Ryan passed. It was at that time that Elton decided to get clean by going to rehab where he became an AIDS advocate for research, treatment and stigma prevention.

Elton officially started his volunteering after moving to Atlanta where he went on his first AIDS march. “People were suffering from enormous pain, and they had Kaposi’s. They didn’t want to be seen,” he said. “It was like delivering meals to lepers, and in fact, that situation really hasn’t changed as far as the stigma goes.”

It was soon after this experience that Elton started the “Elton John AIDS Foundation” charity, which is now headquartered in both London and New York City with the mission to ‘reduce the incidence of HIV/AIDS through innovative HIV prevention programs, eliminate stigma and discrimination associated with HIV/AIDS, and direct treatment and care services for people living with HIV/AIDS.’

And his latest move in the HIV/AIDS effort? A new book called, “Love is the Cure: On Life, Loss, And the End of AIDS,” which is a personal account of his life during the AIDS epidemic, including stories of his friendships with Ryan White, Princess Diana and others; as well as the story of the Elton John AIDS Foundation. The book is now available online and in major retailers nationwide.

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photo via Zap2