Madonna lived up to her reputation for courting controversy and fighting for gay rights when she appeared on March 16 in New York City at the 24th annual Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) Awards, the first of three events to be held this year to honor the best representations of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in the media.
Dressed in a Boy Scout uniform, the pop star told the audience, “I wanted to be a Boy Scout but they wouldn’t let me join… I can build a fire. I know how to pitch a tent… Listen, I want to do good for the community. Most importantly, I know how to scout for boys!”
Then, addressing the organization’s ban on gay scouts and scout leaders, Madonna stated, “I think I should be allowed to be allowed to be a Boy Scout. And I think they should change their stupid rules.”
The suggestion came at the beginning of an over 10-minute speech that served as both an inspirational call to arms to see gay rights won and strengthened in the United States and around the world and as an introduction for Anderson Cooper, who was awarded GLAAD’s Vito Russo Award.
“Most people are not comfortable with things or people that they perceive as different from themselves,” Madonna said. “And I would wager that if we just took the time to get to know one another, did our own investigations, looked beneath the surface of things, we would find that we are not so different after all.”
Referencing various recent incidents of unrest, from the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis to the imprisonment of activist music act Pussy Riot by the Russian government, Madonna argued for more understanding between disparate groups and for religion to no longer be used as a weapon for hate or discrimination.
“What did Jesus teach? It’s in all the holy books: Love thy neighbor as thy self,” she said. “We cannot use the name of God or religion to justify acts of violence, to hurt, to hate, to discriminate. Anyone out there sitting on a fence still — a sharp fence, I hope — I hope you’re listening.”
The singer also addressed the deeply disturbing bullying epidemic in the United States, which has grown more visible in recent years and has been tied to a number of teen suicides.
“When I think about young kids today in America who are being bullied and tortured, who are taking their own lives because they feel alone and judged, [like] outcasts and misunderstood, I want to cry a river of tears,” she said.
Drawing a personal connection to bullying, she added, “I have teenagers of my own now and the idea of them or any young person experiencing that kind of pain is unfathomable to me. It’s an atrocity to me. I don’t accept it.”
In what was one of the most powerful moments of an entirely riveting speech, Madonna challenged:
“[The bullying epidemic] is no different from a white supremacist hanging a black man from a tree before the Civil Rights movement. It’s no different than a member of the Taliban shooting a young girl in the head for writing a blog about the importance of female education. It’s no crazier than an Iranian gay man being hanged for falling in love with a man. I don’t know about you, but I can’t take this sh*t anymore. That is why I want to start a revolution. Are you with me? It’s 2013, people. We live in America — land of the free, home of the brave — that’s a question, not a statement.”
The singer then transitioned to her introduction of Anderson Cooper, saying, “I am here to give an award to someone that I admire, to someone who is brave, to someone who has made a difference in the world by promoting equality and giving a voice to the LGBT community.” She also gushed about the CNN news anchor’s blue eyes, called him a “bad ass m****rf****r” and told him to get up on stage so she could “grab [his] ass.”