Labeling herself a “freedom fighter,” Madonna reflected on her history of LGBTQ advocacy work in an impassioned speech at the 2019 GLAAD Media Awards on Saturday.
The Queen of Pop, 60, was honored with GLAAD’s Advocate for Change Award at the New York ceremony this weekend. Presented to those who “changed the game for LGBTQ people around the world,” the award’s only prior recipient was former President Bill Clinton in 2013.
After being introduced by CNN’s Anderson Cooper, rapper Mykki Blanco and Madonna’s “A League of Their Own” co-star Rosie O’Donnell, the singer said that fighting for marginalized groups like the LGBTQ community “was a duty and an honor I could not turn my back on.”
The pop superstar cited ballet teacher Christopher Flynn and graffiti artist Keith Haring as two gay men who influenced her record-breaking career in music. Much of her speech, however, was devoted to her recollection of the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980s and ’90s.
“The AIDS epidemic, the plague that moved in like a black cloud in New York City, and in the blink of an eye, took out all of my friends,” she said. “I remember the pandemonium and the fear, and people trying all kinds of drugs that didn’t work.”
Watch a segment of Madonna’s GLAAD Media Awards speech below.
Visiting her AIDS-stricken friends at New York’s St. Vincent’s Hospital, she added, “felt like I had entered a concentration camp.”
“Emaciated bodies in every bed, and all these people who had been abandoned by their families and their friends and their loved ones. I decided to defy the universe and get into every bed and put my arms around as many humans as I could and make them feel loved — and human,” she said.
“As soon as you really understand what it means to love,” she said, “you understand what it takes to become a human being, and that it is every human’s duty to fight, to advocate, to do whatever we can and whatever it takes.”
2019 is shaping up to be yet another banner year for Madonna. On June 14, she’ll release her 14th studio album, “Madame X,” featuring her reggaetón-tinged duet with Colombian superstar Maluma, “Medellín,” and “I Rise,” which samples a speech by Parkland, Florida, shooting survivor Emma González.
And though Madonna’s packed stadiums and sports arenas over the course of her career, she announced plans Monday to perform at a series of small theaters in New York and Los Angeles, among other cities, as part of her 2019 Madame X World Tour this fall.