A few months after meeting Chris, Carl walked back into Bailey House looking like he had just come off a golf course. The angry, anxious, and desperate ex-offender was now a dapper, healthy, employed man, wearing Bermuda shorts and a polo shirt, supporting himself, managing his HIV, and in a relationship with a woman he met at Bailey House. Today, Carl is mentoring fellow ex-offenders and doing peer outreach to get others living with HIV into care. He also testifies in front of the New York State Parole Board about the value of programs such as Bailey House’s. It’s no wonder that he’s willing to do so much for the organization. As Carl has said many times, “Chris and Bailey House saved my life.”
The Elton John AIDS Foundation has funded hundreds of projects. Each one operates a bit differently. Each does different work for different populations. But every project we fund has one thing in common: It is committed to a compassionate response and to fighting the stigma that spreads HIV/AIDS. The organizations target their work to the most marginalized populations, those who most need the services but are least likely to get them. They advocate against policies that promote discrimination. They shine a light on the taboo subjects that nobody wants to talk about but that have everything to do with this horrible disease. Most of all they treat each person they see in a holistic way.
That term, “holistic,” is thrown around a lot in medical circles. You hear doctors talking about caring for the whole patient, seeing to all of his or her medical needs at once. With HIV/AIDS, as with most diseases, it’s more than just the way the body itself works. So many people with the virus are also poor and vulnerable. They often need shelter, food, mental health services, employment opportunities, and people to care for and support them. They need critical help at critical moments to ensure their disease doesn’t come to define, or end, their lives.
It’s crucial to treat every single person—regardless of background or circumstance or HIV status—as a whole person, as an individual with dreams to fulfill and goals to achieve. When we treat people as worthy of love, their worth is realized for all the world to see. Ultimately, this is the most powerful weapon we have against stigma, and indeed against AIDS.
Whether you are the richest man alive or you have absolutely nothing, you deserve to be treated with dignity and compassion. That is the insight that inspires the work of my foundation. And that, I have come to believe, is how we will end AIDS.
This post is adapted from Elton John's Love Is the Cure: On Life, Loss, and the End of AIDS.