As a Madonna scholar (hey, it's a thing), I am well aware of her love for the guy, and his influence on her. He was her first concert (and she lied to her dad about going), she inducted him into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and she has clearly taken much inspiration from his conceptual use of personae and eras.
Unyielding advocate for personal power and giving back (All images by Matthew Rettenmund)
I bought my ticket for the 30th GLAAD Media Awards upon learning that Madonna would be honored there as a tireless Advocate for Change, a much-needed reboot of our appreciation for all she's done for LGBTQ people over the years.
I always cover the carpet, but figured she would not walk — and was right — so wanted to be sure I had a nice spot inside.
Getting with the programs
In the meantime, sadly, one of my dogs has been caught in a life-or-death health battle, so I thought I'd have to pass up the awards. As it turned out, he was in good hands Saturday, so I was able to take a breath, go and enjoy a very memorable night.
Pictured with my longtime buddy Lav ->
I did the carpet with my old friend Peter Dee, who manned the Q&A part while I filmed. (It's Boy Culture, not Dad Culture.) I wore my familiar CK jacket but accessorized with a vintage Madonna purse to hold my video cam.
The carpet's always fun — you're stressed out that you don't deserve to be next to major news orgs, then overhear that they'd accidentally been recording their interviews on slow-mo, or that someone will hog too much time with the best gets, leaving you with the dregs, then find out the ones you really want have no problem circling back to you anyway.
My own snafu — my video sometimes records with all the audio pitched to one side, not stereo. And I can't figure it out. So watch our supercut of snippets from Shangela (she tackles MAYOchella), Gus Kenworthy (got to say hello to his boyf Matt Wilkas), May Hong of Tales of the City, the Pose cast, Trace Lysette and Alexandra Billings of Transparent, Yuval David (Madam Secretary), Jonathan Van Ness, Sonja Morgan, Adam Rippon, Benito Skinner and more ... but do so with one ear:
With the carpet behind me, I dashed inside to find I was seated at a great table, where I met the owners of the Stonewall Inn. (We also had a Jennifer Coolidge caricature at the table who was apparently a Trumper, as she loudly complained about a very pregnant Chelsea Clinton's passionate speech about tolerance.
The dress was exquisitely, appropriately over-the-top-and-beyond ...
The show was one of GLAAD's best, with participation from the Pose cast, Rachel Brosnahan, and a hilarious presentation by Sarah Jessica Parker of the Vito Russo Award to Andy Cohen, who she teased for his younger wild ways. Shangela was a most capable hostess. One could even say she had the mostess.
I realized right away my camera gave me carte blanche, so I went from table to table getting lovely posed pics of Sarah Jessica Parker and Anderson Cooper, Sarah Jessica Parker and Andy Cohen, Rosie O'Donnell and more.
I was thrilled with my SJP shots
When Madonna strolled into the banquet room about 25 minutes before her presentation and took a seat, shielding her eyes with red sunglasses, I did not hesitate. I was the first photographer to approach and politely ask for a shot. She turned her head and said, “Nope, nope, nope.” Asked and answered!
Yes, Madonna got teary-eyed.
Still, I was able to park by the stage, so I got excellent close-ups when she was affectionately lampooned by Shangela (in a cone bra) and celebrated by Anderson Cooper, Rosie O'Donnell and queer rapper Mykki Blanco. Taking the stage to the strains of her new empowerment anthem “I Rise,” Madonna gave a lovely, funny, bittersweet speech, in which she thanked Christopher Flynn, Keith Haring and her best friend Martin Burgoyne for helping to form her values, remembering through some tears the plague years, when she went to St. Vincent's and embraced dying men in their beds to give them humanity.
At Madonna's feet
She spoke of her refusal to turn her back on marginalized people, promising to never let her LGBTQ fans down.
The gays — including actual gay Gus Kenworthy & honorary gay SJP back there — watching Madonna speak
She was most emotional when talking about how her commitment to fighting AIDS led her to champion Malawi, from which she adopted four of her six kids.
Like it or not ...
For comedy, Madonna recalled making Truth or Dare and having had no idea it would inspire men to come out as gay, let alone suck off so many Evian bottles.
Best of all, Madonna delivered a rousing reminder that we need to be who we are, whether people like it or not. She raised two middle fingers as she made this evergreen pronouncement, which came minutes after she'd pledged $25,000 to GLAAD during an auction run by celebrity benefit auctioneer Erin Ward that evening.
Madonna's gratitude to gay men in particular (no mention of her gay, estranged bro Christopher Ciccone) was palpable, her wit was in good order and she was, as ever, unready to back down from anyone or anything.
I also loved her use of a James Baldwin quote about how we don't own anything, but are mere shepherds of our talents — and we owe it to everyone to give back.
All this, and she was 15 feet away from me!
Madonna was feeling both Rosie and Shangela — and Shangela had made fun of her cone bra!
After that, she sneaked back through the stage and vanished, hand-in-hand with Rosie O'Donnell, but everyone else stayed and after-partied. She had, after all, told us in parting that Madame X is a freedom fighter, and a freedom fighter's work is never done.
Keith Haring is renowned for his humanizing of LGBTQ rights and AIDS visibility, which he accomplished with his of-the-people-style subway murals. His work is so universally easy to understand and chic, it remains popular on T-shirts all over the mainstream today.
As Artsy.net reports, the sexual libertine did create some racy work ... and one of his most famous, dirtiest murals is tucked away in a john at NYC's LGBTQ Community Center:
Haring titled the piece Once Upon a Time, a nod to the gay community’s halcyon days of free love. Over the course of several days, he covered every un-tiled surface of the bathroom with turgid, squirting penises of all sizes. Some are attached to buff male bodies tangled together in pleasure. Others float like happy clouds or hungry dragons. One impressively large specimen hovers over a line of small figures who are either dancing the conga or enjoying an orgy.
When he painted the mural, Haring was fighting his own battle with AIDS; he’d been diagnosed just a year before, in 1988. During the late 1980s, he and his community not only faced the fear of death, but also disregard and antagonization from the Reagan administration, which simultaneously laid blame on the gay community and refused to put resources towards AIDS research.
His creations are simple, joyous and rainbow-bright. They also contain written messages, which is a passion of mine in art — I'm a Barbara Kruger whore, and used to include written words in my own work back when I was an artist.
He chalks up some of his success to none other than Madonna, who noticed an image from his I'm Not a Joke series and Instagrammed it. As reported by Gay Star News:
To his shock, in October 2013, Madonna saw one of the images and tweeted about it, saying ‘this art is no joke i love this @Arzola_d.’
That one Tweet changed Arzola’s life. In the course of just a few days, he received media inquiries from all over the world and dozens of requests for interviews.
However, that spotlight bought him to the attention of Venezuelan authorities. He says he began to receive threats. Mindful of his previous experiences, Arzola decided he had to leave.
‘I always say Madonna changed my life. When she shared my work on Twitter, people started asking for interviews with me. One of them was RNW (Radio Netherlands Worldwide) in Amsterdam – and they helped me get out of Venezuela and go to the Netherlands.’