TIME 100 Talks
June 25, 2020 2:40 PM EDT

Musician and philanthropist Sir Elton John says that members of the transgender community are the bravest people in the world and his personal heroes.

During a TIME 100 Talks discussion, John and his husband, filmmaker David Furnish, spoke with journalist Katie Couric about what it has meant to them to be such prominent symbols of the LGBTQ movement. In the wake of two Black trans women — Riah Milton in Ohio and Dominique “Rem’Mie” Fells in Pennsylvania — being killed earlier in June as the Trump Administration reversed protections for transgender people in the U.S. health care system, John says that while the recent Supreme Court ruling that federal law protects gay and transgender employees from workplace discrimination is a major step forward for LGBTQ rights, continued discrimination against the trans community is “an absolute disgrace to humanity.”

“They are the bravest people in the world,” John said. “And the fact that they are being murdered, the fact that they are being treated as non-existent and not important…These people are heroes to me…To take away their rights, to make them feel less than is an absolute disgrace to humanity.”

The couple also spoke about how numerous parallels can be drawn between the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. and the global HIV/AIDS crisis with regards to the systemic reasons why the diseases disproportionately affect Black and brown communities. “What we saw with HIV/AIDS when it started in the ‘80s was that it affected one marginalized community, but then grew to become the biggest disease that affected the entire planet…With HIV/AIDS, now we see a disproportionate number of new infections amongst Black African Americans,” Furnish says, noting that while African Americans make up 13% of the U.S. population, they account for 42% of all new HIV/AIDS infections. “COVID has shown a light on that as well because we’ve seen a disproportionately large number of African Americans affected by COVID and it’s the same socioeconomic problems that we face with HIV/AIDS that are coming to the forefront.”

The solution to these inequalities, according to John and Furnish, comes down to providing the communities that need the most help with access to affordable health care. “COVID has exposed the cracks even more deeply,” Furnish says. “We’ve known this from HIV/AIDS. We’ve seen this. And COVID has shown an even bigger light. There’s something very unfortunate about the [fact that in the] world’s most prosperous country, the world’s richest country, there isn’t better access to affordable health care for all. It is an absolute fundamental human right and we believe in that.”

This article is part of #TIME100Talks: Finding Hope, a special series featuring leaders across different fields encouraging action toward a better world. Want more? Sign up for access to more virtual events, including live conversations with influential newsmakers.

This interview is part of a special series produced in collaboration with Katie Couric. Read more from TIME Reports with Katie Couric, and sign up for her weekday morning newsletter Wake-Up Call with Katie Couric.

Write to Megan McCluskey at megan.mccluskey@time.com.

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