Dear Zachary and Elijah,
Do you remember the first time you saw me on stage? We were in Las Vegas in 2018, and your dad brought you to the show. You were amazed by it all, the lights, the costumes and the crowd. Afterwards, you both said, “I didn’t know daddy could do that.”
Once upon a time, I didn’t know I could do it either. You’re 11 and 9 now, and when I was your age, I could never have dreamed where life would take me. Looking back over the past 75 years, there are so many things I’m proud of, so many things I’ve learned. As you are the two most precious parts of my life, I want to share some of these lessons with you.
When I was young, I was told to fit in, to do what others expected even when it didn’t feel right. Now I realize that I can only be me. Being true to myself is what gave me my voice and helped me face my greatest fears. I made deep friendships, found the love of my life and became your daddy. Whoever you become, just be yourself, fully and completely yourself.
Read more: “I am fully aware of the ridiculousness of my life.” Autobiography of Elton John Me Is a cautionary tale of modern fame
I know being accepted for who you really are in the world isn’t always easy. And in my 75 years as a gay man, I’ve seen so many positive social changes. Previously, LGBTQ+ people were considered “evil” or “the bad guys”. We still have a long way to go, but your dad and I felt safe enough to bring the two of you into this world. We thought you would be welcome here, as children of two daddies.
And yet, even when we held you and our hearts swelled with love and pride, a part of us was still afraid. Would other children tease you for having two fathers?
So we read you bedtime stories about families like ours. Your favorite was The family book by Todd Parr. You both immediately understood his simple message. “There are a lot of different ways to be a family,” he said. “Your family is special, regardless of gender.”
Elton John, David Furnish and their sons Zachary and Elijah arrive at a Premier League match on September 16, 2017 in Watford, England. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
Getty Images-2017 Getty Images
When you started school, you knew we were different. You knew difference was okay, and more importantly, you knew you were loved. Some of your classmates asked the inevitable questions, but you and your teachers answered them honestly. You had the chance to grow up, just like your classmates.
Every child in this world deserves this chance. But as I write this letter to you, the Florida government wants to prevent teachers of children from even “saying gay” in their classrooms.
Read more: What Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill Could Mean for LGBTQ Kids
Imagine if it was illegal for your teachers to talk about our family. No way to tell stories about us at school. No reading books about boys with two dads. And for children struggling to understand and accept who they are, this bill could prevent them from getting the help they need.
This is really what is happening. As some parts of the world become more tolerant, others become more confrontational and dangerous. It sets us back and harms us all, no matter how we identify. There are at least 68 countries around the world that still criminalize LGBTQ+ people, according to Human Rights Watch. Your dad and I could be arrested just for being ourselves. We must never forget how lucky we are.
Which brings me to my second life lesson: build bridges, not walls. I’ve played in front of billions of people in my career and I’ve had the joy of meeting several thousand of them. Most people – gay, straight, black, white, rich or poor – all want certain basic things in life: to be safe, respected, loved and free. But today we live in a world where too often, instead of embracing diversity, we shut it down.
Thanks to my involvement in the fight against AIDS, my eyes have been opened to this in a way that I could never have imagined. For decades, people living with HIV and AIDS have been shamed, stigmatized and harshly judged, or worse, ignored.
Thirty years ago, I established the Elton John AIDS Foundation, to bring essential HIV testing and treatment to millions of people and to help people living with HIV overcome the stigma they endure. Country after country, we have brought together the AIDS community with governments, big pharma, the church and the media. By opening a dialogue, we have opened hearts and minds and turned the tide of the AIDS pandemic.
We still have work to do, including right now in Russia and Ukraine, where this devastation is hurting vulnerable people and preventing them from accessing services that could save their lives. As someone born in the aftermath of World War II, I never thought I would see such a conflict in Europe again. It’s heartbreaking. It has to stop.
Read more: After fleeing Ukraine, LGBTQ refugees seek safety in countries hostile to their rights
No child should go through this. I want you to grow up in a conflict-free world where you can achieve your dreams, whatever they may be. And I want all other kids – all other people, everywhere – to have that same opportunity. I have seen how we can grow by acknowledging our differences and learning to have compassion and empathy for one another.
This brings me to my final lesson: give back. Serving something greater than yourself is the most rewarding thing you can do. This world is unequal and unfair, and it is up to us to make it better. That’s why I gave so much to my music and my foundation. And their impact gave me so much joy in return.
I had 75 years of incredible luck. I’ve had my share of adventures, and I’ll tell you about some of the craziest ones another time. But know this: the most rewarding journey of my life was the one I started 12 years ago with your dad, when we decided to start a family.
David Furnish, Elton John and their sons Elijah and Zachary attend the 23rd Annual Elton John AIDS Foundation Academy Awards Viewing Party on February 22, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for EJAF)
Getty Images for EJAF-2015 Michael Kovac
Zachary and Elijah, you two are the greatest gifts I have ever received. You have filled my heart with love and my life with purpose and meaning in ways I never thought possible. You are my proudest accomplishment, and I love you so, so much.
When the lockdown put my tour on hold, my world shrunk and I started seeing life in a different way. I will always love to travel and play music for my fans, but you showed me that I could have just as much fun at home with you playing UNO or going to Pizza Express.
Now let me share a few final tips, because one day they may ring true:
Be yourself. Push the envelope a bit and ruffle some feathers where you need them.
Remember that what unites us is far greater than what divides us.
Take care of each other and try to be part of something bigger than yourself.
And never forget how much your dad and I love you.
Love Love Love,
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