Shout the bigots down

By Elton John, a singer, composer and pianist (THE GUARDIAN, 22/03/07):

The bigots still have a loud voice and they're not being shouted down. On December 21 2005 I was legally bound to the man I love - as is my legal right and my human right. I wanted to shout about it, but I still felt nervous of the public's reaction. I was, therefore, delighted and relieved on leaving the register office in Windsor to find the crowd outside cheering and supporting our union. I had feared that abusive, banner-waving bigots would try to spoil the occasion. I felt so proud that day to be British.

owever, in some countries my voice would have been drowned out - maybe even stamped out. For many, basic rights are still a matter of life and death. Individuals suffer because of their sexuality every day. Last year William Hernandez had a gun pressed against his neck, as he stood in the street outside the El Salvador offices of his gay rights organisation, Entre Amigos. William and his colleagues speak out for gay rights in El Salvador and had been protesting against political moves to amend the constitution to formally prevent gay marriage.

"We will kill you before you can get married," said his attacker.

The offices of Entre Amigos had been broken into and ransacked two nights before. Nothing of value had been stolen, but details of planned events were taken and written homophobic threats were left in the offices. It was the seventh such break-in in five years.

These aren't isolated incidents. Attacks on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are commonplace and those responsible are seldom brought to justice. Men and women are persecuted and attacked every day, all over the world, just because of those they love. Amnesty International has documented laws which criminalise gay sex in over 80 countries.

Homophobia impacts very badly on health education. Information that could help prevent the spread of HIV and Aids is suppressed - or those providing it, or seeking it out, are persecuted. William and his colleagues are targeted partly because they provide sex education for gay people in El Salvador.

In September 2006, on stage in Warsaw, I made a statement about homophobia: "Twenty-two years ago I came to Gdansk and met Lech Walesa in his home. At that time he was a hero to everyone in the world as he fought for freedom and his own human rights," I told the crowd. "I am just a musician. I play and I hopefully make everyone's troubles disappear for a couple of hours ... I am also a gay man ... and I know that in Poland recently there has been a lot of violence towards gay people. And I urge you ... this is a time for compassion. There is enough hatred in the world. Leave gay people alone. We are just trying to be ourselves. Love is what it's all about ... and the Polish people have always been full of love."

This weekend is my 60th birthday, 40 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK, and yet sadly outlawed still in many parts of the world. I want to take this opportunity to shine a spotlight on William Hernandez, his colleagues and the many individuals who stand up for human rights around the world, at great risk to their own safety. People like William are far braver than I am, because when bigots shout abuse, he shouts back. With enough support, they'll shout the bigots down.

My voice has served me pretty well over the years; I hope maybe it can do him some good too. But we need more voices. Whether the bigot is in our local pub or miles away, we should all stand up and speak out for basic human rights. I want to ask you, today, to add your voice. Go to the address below to sign up to Amnesty's campaign.

· A longer version of this article appears in this week's New Statesman