Celebrating the legacy of Madonna as an LGBTQ+ activist

As the Queen of Pop celebrates her 65th birthday, we explore her legacy as an out and proud ally and activist.

Madonna posing with her eyes closed, sitting on a bed. She wear a patterned dress and a cross necklace.
Image: Twitter: @Madonna

On August 16, 1958, Queen of Pop and LGBTQ+ icon Madonna Louise Ciccone was born. In her 65 years on earth, she has established herself not only as one of the most successful musicians of all times, but also as an activist and ally for the queer community, earning the adoration of countless fans.

Today, the star’s birthday is being marked across the globe with particular emotion following her recent health scare, and many are pausing to also remember and celebrate her work and support for LGBTQ+ folk and causes.

Madonna was introduced to the entertainment industry while still a teenager by her dance instructor Christopher Flynn, an openly gay man. Thought to be one of the first people to really believe in her potential, Flynn became the star’s mentor, and also introduced her to the local queer scene in Detroit, Michigan.

In the 1970s, Madonna moved to New York to pursue a career in dance, and was soon surrounded by gay men in both her professional and personal circles, a pattern that would remain throughout her life.

As the HIV/AIDS epidemic emerged in the US in the ‘80s, the singer was one of the few celebrities to be vocal in her support of the LGBTQ+ community. In 1989, she attended a charity dance marathon in LA, which benefitted people who were HIV Positive, and also released the Like a Prayer album, which included a landmark leaflet entitled ‘The Facts about AIDS’.

In 1990, the same year she was added to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, she won AIDS Project Los Angeles’ Commitment to Life Award and released ‘Vogue’, a highly-influential song for the queer community inspired by the ballroom scene of New York’s gay clubs.


In 1991, she won both the American Foundation for AIDS Research’s Award of Courage and also GLAAD’s Raising Gay Awareness award, and speaking to The Advocate, she criticised homophobia in the music industry. According to the publication, it was the first time a global star did an interview with a national gay magazine. Madonna later made similar comments on Good Morning America, calling homophobia “a big problem in the United States”.

Furthermore, the star has been credited with supporting both Ellen DeGeneres and Rosie O’Donnell in publicly coming out at a time when it was difficult to do so.


Her allyship did not falter in the 21st century, and she has continued to be an outspoken LGBTQ+ activist. There are countless examples that could be highlighted, whether it be when she advocated for same-sex marriage in New York, protested against the Boy Scouts of America’s ban on gay participants and leaders, her multiple surprise performances at the Stonewall Inn, or when, during her show in Russia for The MDNA Tour in 2012, she called out the country’s so-called “gay propaganda” bans, and expressed support for queer rights and Pride.

In 2019, GLAAD honoured the icon once again, presenting her with the Advocate for Change Award in recognition of her activism. 

“Madonna always has and always will be the LGBTQ community’s greatest ally and it is only fitting to honor and celebrate our biggest advocate at GLAAD’s biggest event ever,” the organisation’s president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said at the time.

“She fearlessly pushes for a world where LGBTQ people are accepted. 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.”

Accepting the award, Madonna stated: “Growing up I always felt like an outsider, like I didn’t fit in. It wasn’t because I didn’t shave under my armpits, I just didn’t fit in.” 

Reflecting on being introduced to the queer scene, she continued, “For the first time I saw men kissing men, girls dressed like boys, boys wearing hot pants, insane, incredible dancing and a kind of freedom and joy and happiness that I had never seen before…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.”

And while she continues to be honoured by LGBTQ+ fans, Madonna has also returned the favour, noting on several occasions, “I wouldn’t have a career if it weren’t for the gay community.”


Happy Birthday, Madge!

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