Madonna gave an emotional speech upon receiving the Advocate for Change Award from LGBT+ media monitoring organisation GLAAD.
At a ceremony held in New York City on Saturday (May 4), the superstar recalled some key moments in her advocacy to fight the stigma against HIV and support those suffering from the disease.
Madonna, who was introduced to the stage by Anderson Cooper, Mykki Blanco and Rosie O’Donnell, remembered how she first felt like she “fit in” once she was introduced to the LGBT+ community.
“Why have I always fought for change? That’s a hard question to answer. 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,” she said.
“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 was also the person who introduced Madonna to gay clubs.
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“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.”
“it is every human’s duty to fight, to advocate and do whatever you can and whatever it takes.”
Madonna credited Flynn with encouraging her to pursue her dreams. She moved to New York and found her success, but her rising star in the mid-80s coincided with the spread of HIV.
“The plague that moved in like a black cloud over New York City and in a blink of an eye,” she described, snapping her fingers, “took out all of my friends.”
It was the death of her best friend and roommate Martin Burgoyne and artist Keith Haring, she said, that prompted her to take up the bull horn and really fight back,” she added.
The “Like a Prayer” singer recalled the appalling treatment that HIV-positive people were receiving: “It made me sick, it made me sad, it made me want to kick everybody’s ass.”
She remembered visiting a hospital ward in New York for AIDS patients: “When I arrived I felt like I entered a concentration camp. Emaciated bodies on every bed and these people who had been abandoned by their families.”
She then recalled witnessing “history repeating itself” in Malawi, where she set up the Raising Malawi charity in 2006 to support children orphaned by the HIV epidemic that is still affecting the country to this day—she ended up adopting four children from Malawi.
She then said: “As soon as you understand what it means to love, you understand what it takes to become a human being and that it is every human’s duty to fight, to advocate and do whatever you can and whatever it takes.”