Madonna appeared at the 2019 GLAAD Media Awards on Saturday to accept the Advocate for Change Award, bringing the audience to their feet as she shared what the honor meant to her.
The pop star, who has championed the LGBTQ community long before it was trendy to do so, spoke candidly about why she’s always felt such a strong affinity towards queer causes.
“Why have I always fought for change? That’s a hard question to answer,” she said on stage at the Hilton Midtown in New York. “It’s like trying to explain the importance of reading or the need to love. Growing up I always felt like an outsider, like I didn’t fit in. It wasn’t because I didn’t shave under my armpits, I just didn’t fit in, OK.”
“The first gay man I ever met was named Christopher Flynn. He was my ballet teacher in high school and he was the first person that believed in me, that made me feel special as a dancer, as an artist and as a human being. I know this sounds trivial and superficial, but he was the first man to tell me I was beautiful.”
Flynn took her to her very first gay bar in Detroit, and that night, she said, played a pivotal role in her life.
“For the first time I saw men kissing men, girls dressed like boys, boys wearing hot pants, insane, incredible dancing and a kind of freedom and joy and happiness that I had never seen before,” she said. “I finally felt like I was not alone, that it was OK to be different and to not be like everybody else. And that after all, I was not a freak. I felt at home, and it gave me hope.”
Flynn also encouraged Madonna to leave her home in Michigan and move to NYC, and along with the bubbling creativity and culture she discovered there, the AIDS epidemic would also soon be devastating queer communities.
“The plague that moved in like a black cloud over New York City and in a blink of an eye, took out all of my friends.”
“After I lost my best friend and roommate Martin Burgoyne and then Keith Haring — happy birthday Keith — I decided to take up the bull horn and really fight back,” she added.
And though the singer has won seven Grammys, two Golden Globes and so many other awards that her trophy room would need wall-to-wall shelving, she said the GLAAD honor is especially important.
“Because it’s recognition of years and years of work that I’ve done over three decades. It’s not anything superficial,” she told The Associated Press after her speech. “It means something to me because I put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into all the work that I’ve done over the years advocating for change.”
Madonna’s 14th album, Madame X, will be released on June 14. The second single (the first was “Medellín” featuring Maluma) is a gay anthem called “I Rise,” and the video will feature some Drag Race favorites like Monet X Change.
The GLAAD Media Awards will air on Logo on May 12.
Dan Tracer is a queer writer, noisemaker, and amateur astral projector. Find him on Instagram.