Madonna Reflects on AIDS Crisis in Emotional GLAAD Award Acceptance Speech

Madonna was honored for her commitment to accelerating LGBTQ acceptance in pop culture at Saturday's NYC ceremony.

Last December marked the 30th anniversary of World AIDS Day, a global observance to support people living with HIV and remember the lives lost from the impact of the disease. At the 30th annual GLAAD Media Awards in New York, Madonna was honored as one of the first celebrities to advocate for the LGBTQ community during this crisis when many people—including the government—did not.

During the ceremony, held Saturday at the New York Hilton Midtown to celebrate the LGBTQ community and its thriving representation in media, Madonna was the newest recipient of the Advocate for Change Award for her commitment to accelerating LGBTQ acceptance in pop culture. She was introduced by Rosie O’Donnell, Anderson Cooper, and singer Mykki Blanco.

“The AIDS epidemic. The black plague that moved in like a black cloud over New York City and in the blink of an eye, took out all of my friends,” Madonna recalled in her acceptance speech. “I saw people begin to start to behave differently around people who were HIV-positive or had AIDS. It made me sad, it made me sick, it made me want to kick everyone’s ass.”

“It made me want to shout from the top of the Empire State Building, ’What the fuck is going on? Why are we losing all the beautiful people, all the special ones? Somebody do something fast.'”

Madonna told the audience that after losing artist Keith Haring, her best friend and roommate Martin Burgoyne, and witnessing the slow pace of research and funding, she went to St. Vincent’s Hospital to visit the ward of men being treated for AIDS.

“When I arrived, I felt like I entered a concentration camp,” she said. “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 get into every bed and put my arms around as many humans as I could to make them feel loved and human. I came home smelling like shit, and vomit, and death, and defiance. I came home smelling like gratitude.”

“These were dark days for all of us, but I never gave up, because it was the gay community that embraced me and gave me life and the courage to be me. So I had to get on the front line, no matter the cost.”

“And somewhere in all that craziness, I became a creamy smooth pop icon goddess,” the 60-year-old singer joked to thunderous applause. “I decided to use my fame to fight for more research and more money and more awareness and more compassion and provoke and make trouble, because that’s what I do best.”

News that Madonna would receive GLAAD’s meaningful accolade was first announced in February.

A GLAAD press release cited the superstar’s lasting commitment to raising awareness about the HIV/AIDS crisis, particularly the inclusion of a “Facts about AIDS” leaflet inside her 1989 album Like a Prayer.

Over the years, the singer also performed at numerous AIDS benefit concerts, established a benefit dance marathon, and proved her willingness to speak out against anti-LGBTQ policies and practices around the globe, particularly in the United States, Romania, Malawi, and Russia.

The 30th GLAAD Media Awards’ New York City ceremony will air exclusively on Logo, Sunday, May 12 at 8pm ET/PT.

Lamar Dawson is a pop culture junkie and pop diva addict living in Manhattan. Follow him on everything @dirrtykingofpop.