Madonna is known as the Queen of Pop for many reasons. Her decades-spanning career is unparalleled, and in that time she had produced countless examples of pop mastery.
But for the LGBT+ community, she is perhaps best remembered for her tireless activism. Madonna fought for gay rights at a time when doing so was largely unpopular. On her 61st birthday, we reflect on five times Madonna proved that she is the ultimate LGBT+ ally.
1. Madonna was vocal in her support of people with HIV and AIDS in the 1980s.
When the AIDS epidemic reached its height in the 1980s, people who were HIV-positive faced an unbearable social stigma. As a result, many celebrities kept their distance, choosing to ignore the illness that was wiping out the gay community – but not Madonna.
In 1989, she attended a charity dance marathon in Los Angeles to benefit people who were HIV-positive. The same year, she released the album Like a Prayer, which included a now famous leaflet called ‘The Facts about AIDS’.
The leaflet read: “People with AIDS – regardless of their sexual orientation – deserve compassion and support, not violence and bigotry.” At the height of the AIDS epidemic, that statement was both powerful and deeply radical.
2. Madonna dressed as a boy scout to protest homophobia.
Madonna has repeatedly denounced homophobia throughout her career, but perhaps one of her most memorable stunts came in 2013 when she dressed up as a boy scout to protest the organisation’s ban on gay members.
The Queen of Pop turned up to the GLAAD awards in the boy scout costume. In a speech, she said: “I wanted to be a Boy Scout, but they wouldn’t let me join. I think that’s f**ked up. I can build a fire. I know how to pitch a tent. I have a very good sense of direction. I can rescue kittens from trees. I want to do good for the community.
“Most importantly, I know how to scout for boys. So, I think I should be allowed to be a Boy Scout and they should change their stupid rules.”
3. Madonna has spoken out against the bullying of gay teenagers.
In a 2010 interview with Ellen DeGeneres, Madonna spoke out against bullying, and zoned in on the issues facing gay teenagers in particular.
In the powerful interview, she said that she would not have a career without the gay community, and felt a need to address the issue. “We talk a lot about the importance of not judging people who are different. Not judging people who don’t fit into our expected view of what’s cool and what isn’t. Think about it across the board. The concept that we are torturing teenagers because they are gay… it’s unfathomable.”
She asked that people stop gossiping about others, and said it would help to make them happier too.
4. Madonna supported Ellen DeGeneres and Rosie O’Donnell in coming out.
As if her tireless activism wasn’t enough, Madonna also supported both Ellen DeGeneres and Rosie O’Donnell when they came out.
Madonna called DeGeneres just days before she publicly came out in 1997 and read her a quote from dance legend Martha Graham, which said: “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it.”
DeGeneres said the words “meant the world” to her.
Earlier this year, O’Donnell revealed that she went to Madonna for advice when she was thinking of coming out publicly. “I was questioning and unsure, my gay life was blossoming but I didn’t quite know what to do. And she told me, ‘Rosie, just follow your heart’, advice I still follow to this day.”
5. Madonna’s speech at this year’s GLAAD awards reflected on her powerful legacy as an LGBT+ ally.
Madonna was awarded the advocate for change award at this year’s GLAAD awards, and the Queen of Pop delivered a powerful and rousing speech to match the occasion. Speaking at the event, Madonna said: “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.”
In the powerful speech, Madonna spoke about her first time at a gay club in Detroit. “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.”