“By all rights, I shouldn’t be here today,” he told the International AIDS conference on Monday.
But, he said, people including strangers showed him compassion as he battled drug addiction and came to terms with his sexuality. He said he’s been sober for 22 years and has a loving partner and son.
John said he believes people with AIDS deserve the same love, compassion, respect and understanding he received when he “hit rock bottom.”
“We have to replace the shame with love,” he told the audience. “We have to replace the stigma with compassion. No one should be left behind.”
He also urged the crowd to end hate, indifference, homophobia and the stigma against people with AIDS and HIV.
John, who set up a foundation to fight the disease, said prevention, treatment, clinical research and a vaccine also are needed to end the epidemic.
“All it takes is a bit more funding and a bit more understanding,” he said. “All it takes is dialogue and the power of words to change actions.”
John said the way to move forward is by combining talents, knowledge and technical abilities to get the message out about AIDS, such as communicating through social media, though he acknowledged not knowing how to use Twitter.
“I have no idea how to tweet,” he said, as the crowd laughed. “I can sing, but I can’t tweet.”
John also noted what he said was an incredible change in attitudes towards gay marriage in the last few months.
He saluted several public figures for standing up in support of same-sex marriage including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden, President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Colin Powell.
He also said viewpoints on same-sex relationships have especially changed in the African-American community thanks to comments by rapper Jay-Z, singer-songwriter Frank Ocean and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
John said there hasn’t been a notable role model for the AIDS and HIV community since Magic Johnson.
“We need people to say it’s OK to be HIV positive,” he said. “We need to move forward in that respect. We need to embrace each other.”