For as long as she has been creating music, Madonna has served as a source of love and inspiration for her LGBTQ fans. Whether it was through her unflinching advocacy throughout the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, or her loving tributes to her gay fans on songs like “Vogue” or “Forbidden Love,” Madonna always made sure her queer fans felt seen.
On Saturday night (May 4), the LGBTQ community returned the favor as Madonna accepted the Advocate for Change award at the 30th annual GLAAD Media Awards in New York City. Taking to the stage, the star said that being an outspoken ally was imperative to the success of her career. “Fighting for all marginalized people was a duty and an honor I could not turn my back on, nor will I ever,” she said.
The star spoke about how her first dance teacher, Christopher Flynn, was a gay man, and how he and countless numbers of her other friends inspired her to become the performer that she is today. “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.”
Madonna spoke to Billboard just after giving her acceptance speech on the GLAAD stage, saying that throughout her career, she has been able to relate to her LGBTQ fans thanks to her experience as a woman who defies convention. “The fact that I continue to be adventurous and mischievous and creative, it’s almost like a crime to a lot of people,” she said. “Like, ‘How dare you? Why do you keep doing it?’ I’m one hundred percent sure that people wouldn’t say that to me if I was a man.”
A number of presenters introduced Madonna before her speech, including CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Rosie O’Donnell, and Mykki Blanco, the queer rapper who Madonna recently collaborated with for her hotly-anticipated upcoming album, Madame X. “I’m still fairly new in this business. Thank you Madonna, my friend, for making me feel so very welcome,” Blanco said on stage.
The pop goddess told Billboard that Blanco was merely one of so many queer artists inspiring her in this day and age, also citing South African performer Nakhane as a major influence on her recent music. “He is brilliant,” she said, saying she found him after watching his film The Wound. “Then I heard he was a singer, and we became friends, and now I’m in love with him. He’s the best.”
Throughout her speech, Madonna also spoke up about her activism during the AIDS epidemic, at one point telling a story of when she visited an AIDS ward at the former St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan, and later being asked by the press if she herself was HIV positive. “Suddenly, everything clicked into place,” she said. “I realized then and there that if you were going to stick your neck out and fight for the rights of people who are feared or misunderstood dor different, you better be ready for the lies, the bullying, the bullshit, the gossip, the hatred, and the abuse.”
But in our after-show interview with the icon, Madonna emphasized nothing but gratitude to her LGBTQ fans, where she said their relationship was based on “total reciprocation” and inspiration. “They made me feel not afraid to be different, and I made them feel not afraid to be different. I was blown away by people’s bravery, and courage and outspokenness, and … not bowing down to fear. That, in turn, inspired me.”