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Congratulations, Madonna! It’s not like you needed another award on your shelf, but this May GLAAD will award gay icon Madonna with its Advocate for Change Award at the 30th Annual GLAAD Media Awards in New York City.
So what’s behind this gesture? And how did gay icon Madonna reach that status?
Madonna’s long been an icon to many in the queer community, dating all the way back to the ’80s. GLAAD says it’s important to recognize her work around HIV, international queer liberation and visibility and acceptance for LGBTQ people.
“Her music and art have been life-saving outlets for LGBTQ people over the years, and her affirming words and actions have changed countless hearts and minds,” the organization says.
Madonna’s exposure to the gay community began early in life, with her ballet teacher Christopher Flynn. Flynn brought her to queer-friendly venues and pushed her to pursue fame in New York City, leaving Michigan behind.
Some of her younger fans might not remember, but back in the ’80s Madonna included an informational brochure on HIV inside the Like a Prayer album. At the time, Republicans were blocking research and education into the epidemic, and so it often fell to advocates with large audiences to provide information to the public.
And then there’s her Truth or Dare documentary, highlighting the lives of the gay men who danced in her tour. And to this day gay icon Madonna continues to use her platform to advocate for equality in countries like Romania, Malawi and Russia.
Madonna even had a role — albeit off-screen — in the revolutionary coming-out episode of Ellen DeGeneres‘ ’90s sitcom Ellen. It wasn’t publicly revealed until years later, but Madonna called Ellen out of the blue to encourage her to use her platform for good.
When New York was in the midst of considering marriage equality legislation, Madonna spoke up in favor of the freedom to marry. “Your voices must be heard,” she wrote to her fans, urging them to contact elected officials in support of the marriage bill. Just a few days later, it passed the legislature.
In recent years, Madonna has continued to inject activism into her live shows. At a concert in Russia, she spoke out against anti-LGBTQ laws enacted under Trump ally Vladimir Putin. In response, Putin threatened to have her arrested — a threat that was never carried out against Madonna, although dozens of her fans were apprehended by authorities who accused them of “gay behavior.”
Madonna also issued a special statement in response to the government-sponsored kidnapping of two gay men in Malawi. “I believe in equal rights for all people, no matter what their gender, race, color, religion or sexual orientation,” she wrote. “This week, Malawi took a giant step backward. The world is filled with pain and suffering; therefore, we must support our basic human right to love and be loved.”
Whether hiring artists from the queer community, speaking out in defense of equality or taking a stand against evil government officials, Madonna has never forgotten her friends and the people who have always been in her corner.
“I wouldn’t have a career if it weren’t for the gay community,” she says.