Madonna turns 60 today and respect must be paid.
To the young and uninitiated, she’s an aging pop star desperately clinging to her youth by stripping during concerts and dueting with rappers half her age.
The rest of us know better. Believe it or not, there was a time when publicly embracing the LGBT community wasn’t a safe career move — long before Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Britney and a horde of others cloned from the Madonna-Janet Jackson cloth penned pop anthems for the young gays.
In the ‘80s and early ‘90s, you could count on one hand the celebrities who reached out to their LGBT fans and advocated on our behalf at the height of the AIDS epidemic amid all the hatred and fear. There was Princess Diana, Liz Taylor, Elton John, Whoopi Goldberg and, yes, Madonna, among the handful of supportive celebs. Madonna once donated the proceeds from a 1987 Madison Square Garden concert to AIDS research.
Her gay moments are too numerous to recap but they include the pioneering 1991 film “Truth or Dare,” which brought gay men of color into the nation’s multiplexes in an open way most filmgoers had never seen before. And who could forget the dance floor at Tracks when “Vogue” debuted? You could get trampled if you didn’t run fast enough to the dance floor. She’s been criticized for appropriating vogueing from the NYC ball scene but it looks like all’s forgiven because Madonna was invited to join season two of “Pose” by one of its stars.
She always advocated for compassion while combating the AIDS epidemic and for equality while endorsing LGBT rights and marriage. She’s stood up to everyone from the pope to the Boy Scouts and denounced anti-LGBT discrimination all over the world during tour stops in Russia, Romania and beyond. She drew much inspiration from the gay community and its nightclubs but also our embrace of the subversive and avant garde.
I could go on. Madonna changed the face of pop culture and helped foster a more accepting world for LGBT people and people with HIV/AIDS. At a time when role models for young gays were hard to find, Madonna inspired many to come out, stand up and fight back. Now at 60, she’s challenging another form of discrimination — ageism — and I’m guessing she has a lot to say. Happy birthday, Madonna, and thanks for sticking your neck out for us when almost no one else would.
Kevin Naff is editor of the Blade. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.