This Pride month I’ve been getting a lot of questions from people asking me about the different versions of the Pride flag as homes and businesses proudly display them throughout Toronto. I had a chance to speak about this with David Furnish who is the CEO of Rocket Entertainment and the chairman of the Elton John AIDS Foundation.
Recently I had the privilege of being the inaugural spotlight in the campaign for The Rocket Fund, the foundation’s $125 million initiative aimed at ending AIDS. As a proud gay man, this opportunity was truly an honour for me.
John-Paul: Pride month is a time of celebration, activism, and reflection. As someone who has been a prominent figure in advocating for LGBTQ+ rights, David what do you think the Pride flag represents, and how has its meaning changed over time?
DF: All Pride flags represent inclusivity first and foremost, demonstrated in how they continue to evolve. There is of course the classic rainbow design, which we have seen evolve into the Progress Pride Flag. This flag incorporates black and brown stripes to represent queer people of color; the black stripe to honour people living with HIV/AIDS, and the friends who have lost their lives to its complications. The light blue, pink, and white shades celebrate transgender and nonbinary communities.
For me, all of these flags are an easily recognizable symbol to say, “you are safe and accepted as you are here.” Now, more than ever, we must stand as one community.
JP: The Pride flag is a powerful symbol that is recognized globally. How do you feel about the evolution of the Pride flag to incorporate the colors of the trans flag? What message do you think it sends to the LGBTQ+ community and society in general?
DF: The incorporation of the colors of the trans flag reflects the inclusive and diverse nature of the LGBTQ+ community. There are an array of different identifiers that represent the queer community, and we should ensure everyone feels seen in its design.
JP: The Elton John AIDS Foundation has played a crucial role in supporting LGBTQ+ causes globally. How do you think this new design of the Pride flag can help fight against discrimination, stigma, and the specific challenges faced by transgender individuals? Are there any specific initiatives within the foundation aligned with this cause?
DF: Our motto at the Elton John AIDS Foundation has always been “no one gets left behind.” This is true no matter how you identify. We see our work represented through the Pride flag because it fosters a sense of belonging and solidarity, and it has really become a vital tool in advocating for LGBTQ+ rights and promoting acceptance in society.
Through the Foundation’s Rocket Fund, we are supporting programs to decriminalize same-sex behavior in 11 focus countries and strengthen the capacity of local LGBTQ+ civil society to advocate for changes in several others. The Foundation will also increase government and donor budgets to support HIV prevention and treatment for LGBTQ+ communities by $50 million.
JP: In your opinion, why is it important for organizations like the Elton John AIDS Foundation to embrace and support initiatives that promote inclusivity and visibility for all segments of the LGBTQ+ community? How do these initiatives address the unique struggles faced by different LGBTQ+ groups, including transgender individuals?
DF: As ongoing assaults against the LGBTQ+ community continue globally, it is more important that ever to support initiatives that promote inclusivity and visibility, including the Elton John AIDS Foundation’s Rocket Fund. At the end of the day, who you love should not be a death sentence nor obstruct your access to compassionate care.
Through The Rocket Fund, we are supporting groundbreaking programs and partners working directly with communities and governments to enhance access to health resources like testing and medicine; fight discriminatory and dangerous laws specifically affecting the LGBTQ+ community; and empower those most at risk to take control of their health through prevention and information.
JP: EJAF recently launched “The Rocket Fund”. Can you share with me how this fund came to be?
DF: The Foundation launched this critical initiative on June 5, the day in 1981 when the Centers for Disease Control released its first report on what would become the AIDS epidemic. We named the occasion Rocket Day to honor the early days of the fight against HIV/AIDS while putting a stake in the ground to accelerate progress towards its end.
JP: How can Canadians get involved with EJAF and “The Rocket Fund?”
DF: Everyone, including Canadians, can support the Foundation’s mission to end AIDS by becoming allies, raising awareness, and donating at ejafrocketfund.org. You can also join in by letting your #InnerElton out on social media and tagging @ejaf!
So that was my conversation with the amazing David Furnish. Speaking to him and seeing the many homes and businesses proudly displaying the Pride flag in Toronto is truly inspiring. The Pride flag represents inclusivity and acceptance for all, and its evolution, including the incorporation of colours from the trans flag, reflects the diverse nature of our community. Organizations like the Elton John AIDS Foundation and initiatives like the Rocket Fund play a vital role in fighting discrimination and addressing the unique challenges faced by different LGBTQ+ groups. Let’s all embrace unity and equality together. Happy Pride, love, JP xoxo