This World AIDS Day, we recall the words of those who’ve continued to advance the public conversation about HIV: outspoken performers, stalwart survivors and icons we won’t forget.
In recognition of the 29th annual World AIDS Day (December 1) we pause to reflect on the high profile public figures who have spoken out about the state of the epidemic — those who dared to make audiences aware of people living with HIV, those who risked stigma by revealing their status, and late luminaries who’ve left wise words behind.
- Annie Lennox
The former Eurthymic has been such a staunch advocate for raising awareness and funds to fight HIV/AIDS that even Queen Elizabeth lauded the singer/songwriter’s tireless efforts when awarding her the Order of the British Empire. “My contribution has been small,” Lennox demurred, “but my dream would be to see the end of AIDS in the not too distant future.”
- Elton John
The Rocket Man proved he’s a man of substance when he created the Elton John AIDS Foundation, which has raised over $200 million for HIV-related programs. “HIV/AIDS is a disease that not only attacks the human immune system; it also attacks the human social system. It infects our civic institutions with fear, our communities with hate… There is no medicine, no creation of science that will inoculate us from these social afflictions. That is why the cure for AIDS is a matter of educating minds and changing hearts,” he said.
Embraced by gay fans early, Madonna saw firsthand how the epidemic engendered both suffering and heroism. “When I first came up, the whole AIDS epidemic was starting and the gay community that I experienced from the beginning of my career was mostly — and overwhelmingly — concerned with staying alive. … People who were HIV-positive were treated so badly, and I was very disturbed,” she said. “But I also saw a lot of love and connection in the gay community.”
- Magic Johnson
Johnson made headlines when he came out as HIV-positive in 1991 but dismissed rumors of a miracle cure surrounding his healthy appearance 24 years later. “I am not cured. I have just been taking my meds. I am doing what I am supposed to be doing, and thank God,” he said.
- Danny Pintauro
Pintauro revealed he was HIV-positive in 2015 and recalled meeting the stigma of his diagnosis head-on. “There’s this awful feeling of ‘I’m never going to be able to have a good relationship, no one’s ever going to want me,’” he said. “I’m now going to have that conversation every time I meet someone.” Pintauro is now happily married.
- Greg Louganis
The Olympian did not allow HIV to hinder his being a role model. “I try to live by example — being gay, being HIV-positive — you know, life goes on. HIV taught me that I’m a lot stronger than I ever believed I was.“
- Keith Haring
Before passing in 1990, the artist warned how HIV might impact young people. “I think one of the hardest things AIDS has done is to kids growing up now, trying to figure out their sexuality in an unbiased way,” he said. “It gives so much fire to the people who are telling you that it’s wrong to be who you are.”
- Freddie Mercury
The day before the rock god and Queen frontman died, he released a statement which said in part: “I wish to confirm that I have tested HIV positive and have AIDS. … The time has come for my friends and fans around the world to know the truth and I hope that everyone will join with me in the fight against this terrible disease.” That fight continues.
(—By Scott A. Kramer, LCSW-R)
Last modified: July 27, 2017