Elton John, David Furnish CNBC Transcript: AIDS, Putin, Queen

Elton John, David Furnish CNBC Transcript: AIDS, Putin, Queen

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Following is the unofficial transcript from a CNBC interview with Sir Elton John and David Furnish.

Elton John and David Furnish/Getty Images
Elton John and David Furnish/Getty Images

Tania Bryer: Elton and David it’s great to see you. Why did you decide to decide to partner with PEPFAR for this particular initiative?

Elton John: Well they were the most obvious people to do this with. They’re on the same page as we are as far as this initiative. They totally agree that this is something that needs to be done and needs to be done soon. People who are gay and part of the LGBT community in a lot of countries are being marginalized and those who have HIV and AIDS are finding it very hard to get medicine. They are finding themselves ostracised from societies. Sometimes their lives are being threatened. So as far as an AIDS foundation like us, we see the AIDS epidemic spreading. You see the people can’t get access to the medicines in the right way and if they do get the access to it, they find it incredibly difficult to get to the doctors because the doctors are prejudice against them. So we thought, we thought long and hard about this and we decided this year to do something about it. This is a new step for our foundation and it makes complete sense to partner up with Ambassador Birx, Debbie Birx because she is amazing. And sometimes I think strength in numbers is much better and so we each decided to put in $5 million to a $10 million fund to help these people in their unfortunate circumstances.

David Furnish: We had the same goals and the same values and that is to end AIDS in the world today and we’re seeing an alarming growth in infections amongst these communities we find that LGBT people are stigmatized where they live. It stigmatizes the disease and the conditions where they live and so they don’t come out and have HIV tests. They feel nervous about going on the medication, about being labelled or branded as someone with HIV, so we really have to go in and attack the root of the problem and that is the stigmatisation and the lack of safe access to treatment and advice and counselling. Otherwise we won’t stop the disease, in its tracks and with the medication that we have today, as long as we can get people tested and know their status, we can stop AIDS in its tracks.

Elton John: It’s very important to stop the AIDS virus spreading , it’s also a humanitarian issue as well.

Tania Bryer: The initial focus of this initiative is in Sub-Saharan Africa. I mean in Africa it is illegal to be gay in 34 countries, in a number of countries it’s a death penalty, for your awareness , for your fight to not be stigmatised there how far do you think you are going to have to go?

Elton John: We’re going to have to tread very softly. You just don’t batter the door down. We’ve taken advice on this, we’ve had a forum at our house with 20 people talking about this and somebody from Uganda, from Nigeria rather, who advises on this. We’re going to have to go to the local communities and to the people, the government, the doctors, the people who run social services and tell them, you know, if they want an epidemic on their hands, which will hurt them economically then they’ve got to start treating people as human beings and not ostracising them. God knows what it must be like for these poor people to live in these conditions, but we have to make an effort to try and undo this and I think you tread softly, you don’t go in there and say, ‘you’ve got to do this, you’ve got to do that,’ because that’s the wrong way to do it. But I think that the clout that we have as an organisation and that PEPFAR do, I think we can change a few minds and that is the whole purpose of this is to change people’s minds and to say listen, this is not just a humanitarian, this is a health issue you’re going to have and an economic one at that, and we’re living in the 21st century now, for god sake wake up.

Tania Bryer: How far though Elton, do you think political leaders should go? I mean would you call for economic sanctions? If you had to?

Elton John: Ermmm I don’t know, I’m not a politician. I’m not a politician. But something has to change, something has to change and if we can try and do it at this level, ermm on a medical level, ermm then I think that’s a good way to start.

David Furnish: We always look at things from a humanitarian perspective and certainly the first port of call is always coming in on the grass roots level more than anything. We know how to get to these people, we know how to find them, we know so that at least in the first step, they have somewhere safe to go, where they can get tested. Where they can get support. Where they can get advice and counselling and medication and adherence to stay on the medication because success in anti-viral therapy requires people to consistently embrace their medication and take it every day. Compliance is essential, so at least doing that on a grass roots level, where people, even in an underground sense, or a covert sense can feel they’re being supported and there is no risk associated with living with HIV. That’s a good starting place.

Tania Bryer: Do you think the international communities are doing enough though, at these levels?

David Furnish: I think the American government is doing enough. I think PEPFAR is fantastic, I think it’s wonderful. I think we as a country in Britain and the Commonwealth could perhaps look at the advances we’ve made in our own country in relation to LGBT Rights and the influence that we have in commonwealth countries, you know push a little bit harder, we can definitely lead that way. I think we can always do more.

Elton John: These laws come from Common, you know the commonwealth. These laws can be changed very easily by the Queen saying, ‘change the law.’ I haven’t approached her about that yet.

Tania Bryer: Will you do?

Elton John: But it’s a – yeah well, if the worst comes to the worst, one has to, yeah. These are old laws from the British commonwealth, I mean these can be changed. And so the Queen could do that with one wave of her hand…

Tania Bryer: Elton you recently made a speech in the Ukraine to tell business leaders to drive change

Elton John: Yep.

Tania Bryer: CNBC is the international business network, what do you want to say to business leaders around the world, what should they do?

Elton John: Embrace their LGBT employees, because if you have a happy workforce you have a better productivity and a happier work place. If you don’t embrace the LGBT community and you ostracise them, then you’re going to get an unhappy workforce and this makes common sense, any business. Any business that treats its employees well and there is a feeling of inclusiveness and good will, then you are going to get better products because everyone is working on a happier environment.

David Furnish: And there’s now actually empirical evidence that’s been done that companies that embrace LGBT employees, perform better. You attract better talent. And those companies that work in those countries where it is illegal to be gay, they can at least act like beacons and safe havens where people can at least come to work, in those countries and they know they are not going to be persecuted, they are going to be able to live openly, happily, healthily and more productively then the companies benefit themselves.

Tania Bryer: Did you have a productive conversation with President Putin when you finally did talk to him?

Elton John: I haven’t… I’ve talked to him on the telephone. We’re trying to arrange a date when I can go to Moscow and talk to him. I feel very honoured that he wants to see me and he’s put the olive branch out and it’s essential that I do go over there and just put my foot in the water and see what we can do change the situation for LGBT people in Russia. Even though the Russians say it’s great it is very very, it’s not great at all. But you know, as I said, I want to try and knock the wall down a little bit, so I will be trying to go and see him. He was very pleasant on the phone, he apologised for the fake interview I did. He was very genial and I was very very impressed.

Tania Bryer: Just finally Elton I just have to ask you about your music because you’ve been in the studio recently, what can we expect from the new album?

Elton John: A joyous album. The last album I made was called ‘the diving board’ which was a very intimate, solo, kind of piano record, this one is with my band and it’s very upbeat, even the slow songs, and there are not many of them are upbeat in lyrically, and I just said to my lyricist, Bernie Taupin, lets write a joyous record because I feel I want to make one. I have children that make me feel joyous, but I just think the world needs a joyous record from me right now, well it probably doesn’t, but that’s what I….

David Furnish: Yes it does.

Tania Bryer: Elton and David thank you so much for your time today and good luck with the initiative.

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