Oprah Winfrey gets emotional recalling gay brother’s death from AIDS at GLAAD Media Awards

Oprah Winfrey has paid tribute to her gay brother who died from AIDS as she accepted the GLAAD Vanguard Award.

The legendary The Oprah Winfrey Show host accepted the Vanguard Award, which celebrates allies who have helped advance LGBTQ+ rights, at the GLAAD Media Awards in Los Angeles last night (14 March).

As she took to the stage, the 70-year-old TV star began her acceptance speech by paying a heartfelt tribute to her brother, who died from AIDS during the height of the AIDS crisis.

“Many people don’t know this but 35 years ago, my brother Jeffrey Lee passed away when he was just 29-years-old from AIDS,” she said.

“Growing up at the time we did in the community we did, we didn’t have the language to understand or to speak about sexuality and gender in the way that we do now. At the time, I really didn’t know how deeply my brother internalised the shame that he felt about being gay.”

Winfrey appeared to get emotional as spoke about how much she wished he could have seen the advancement of LGBTQ+ rights.

“I wish he could have lived to witness these liberated times and to be here with me tonight,” she told the crowd.

As she continued her speech, she reflected on how she wanted to use The Oprah Winfrey Show, which ran from 1986 to 2011, to “help people be more of their authentic selves”.

She recalled bringing the show to Williamson, West Virginia, in 1987 to hold a town council with residents – the town’s pool had been closed after gay man Robert Marion “Mike” Sisco II, who had HIV, swam in it. 

“I knew then back in 1987 that I wanted to and needed to do more, so I did,” she continued, explaining how her show then began celebrating awareness days like National Coming Out Day, and featured guests including Ellen DeGeneres, who came out in 1997. 

Ever since, Winfrey has continued advocating for the LGBTQ+ community: In 2021, she led one of Elliot Page’s first interviews after The Umbrella Academy star revealed that he is trans in 2020.

Oprah Winfrey on stage at the GLAAD Media Awards.
Oprah Winfrey was awarded the GLAAD Media Awards’ Vanguard Award. (Getty/Kevin Winter)

Wrapping up her speech, Winfrey pledged to “continue to hire queer and trans filmmakers” and “to bring authentic characters to the screen,” and affirmed her support for the LGBTQ+ community.

“This is what I know for sure: when we can see one another, when we are open to supporting the truth of a fellow human, it makes for a full, rich, vibrant life for us all,” she said.

“That’s what I wish my brother Jeffrey could have experienced – a world who could see him for who he was, and appreciate him for what he brought to this world.”

Elsewhere at the GLAAD Media Awards, big winners included lesbian comedy film Bottoms, which was awarded the Outstanding Film Award, and lesbian singer Reneé Rapp, who was named the Outstanding Music Artist.

Jonathan Bailey and Matt Bomer’s raunchy historical drama Fellow Travelers was named Outstanding Limited Series, RuPaul’s Drag Race won the Outstanding Reality Competition Program accolade, and Baldur’s Gate 3 was declared the year’s Outstanding Video Game.

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