David Furnish is taking issue with some remarks made by Brad Simpson, an executive producer on FX drama “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” regarding the choice to depict the slain fashion designer as HIV-positive in the fact-based series (whether Versace was or wasn’t HIV-positive isn’t known).
During an interview with NPR on Wednesday, Simpson commented on the creative decision to depict Versace as carrying the HIV virus.
“This was a time in which HIV was still a death sentence,” said Simpson, “it was killing thousands and thousands of gay men, and we personally don’t think there’s any stigma anymore to having HIV.”
Upon hearing Simpson’s comments, David Furnish felt compelled to issue a statement in his capacity as chairman of the Elton John AIDS Foundation.
“I was deeply disappointed by comments made by Brad Simpson, which were completely inaccurate and ignore the real-life experience of millions of people living with HIV today. HIV stigma is not only real, it is severe. In fact, today the primary barrier to ending the AIDS epidemic continues to be widespread stigma and discrimination against people living with or perceived to be living with HIV/AIDS,” begins the statement from Furnish, who has been John’s partner for two decades (they wed in 2014).
“It’s because of stigma that people are hesitant or fearful to be tested, to discuss their HIV diagnosis with their doctor or pharmacist, to reveal their HIV-positive status to family and friends, or to seek treatment and services. It’s because of stigma that there are still laws on the books in many states that criminalize HIV-positive people for having consensual sex — even when no HIV transmission takes place,” his statement continues.
“Mr. Simpson should use his platform to help end the stigma and ignorance that persist on this issue,” Furnish concludes. “Instead, sadly, he is perpetuating it. At the very least, he should apologize. But more importantly, he should educate himself and join the critical work of ending the stigma and discrimination that targets all people affected by the epidemic.”
The series, based on Maureen Orth’s book Vulgar Favors, has been met with resistance from Versace’s fashion house, which issued a statement declaring the events depicted in “The Assassination of Gianni Versace” as “pure fiction.”
“The Versace family has not authorized nor has it in any way been involved in the TV series dedicated to the death of Gianni Versace,” reads the statement. “Since Versace has not authorized the book from which it is partially drawn and has not taken part in writing the script, this TV series must be considered a work of fiction.”