In touching speech, Oprah Winfrey discusses brother who died of AIDS

LGBTQ Entertainment News


Oprah Winfrey accepting GLAAD’s Vanguard Award Photo: YouTube screenshot

Media legend Oprah Winfrey recently spoke about her younger brother Jeffrey who died of AIDS. She spoke of him while accepting a Vanguard Award from the queer media watchdog group GLAAD. GLAAD presents the award to allies who have made a significant difference in promoting acceptance of LGBTQ+ people and issues.

“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,” Winfrey said near the start of her speech. “Growing up at the time we did, in the community that we did, we didn’t have the language to understand or to speak about sexuality and gender in the way that we do now. And at the time, I really didn’t know how deeply my brother internalized the shame that he felt about being gay. I wish he could have lived to visit these liberated times and to be here with me tonight.”

“I wish my brother Jeffrey could have experienced a world that could see him for who he was and appreciate him for what he brought to this world,” she added.

During her speech, she mentioned that The Oprah Winfrey Show — her televised talk show which ran from 1986 to 2011 — worked during the AIDS crisis to correct “rampant misinformation and misguided fear” about gay men. In 1987, she brought her talk show to Williamson, West Virginia — a town that had shut down a local pool after an HIV-positive man was found to have swam there — to hold a town hall where medical experts explained how the virus is transmitted.

“We brought the facts and tried to erase some of the biases,” Winfrey said in her speech. “And then we went back, 23 years later, to revisit it and help people to confront their beliefs around homosexuality, and saw both the personal growth and the lack of personal growth that had taken place.”

Her show also commemorated National Coming Out Day in 1988, the same year that the observance was first created, to have people publicly come out to their parents on the air — though she admitted that she required all participants to come out to their parents before the show aired because, “Really, I don’t want your mom to come after me.”

“I wanted to create a safe space to bring the lives and the background stories of the LGBTQ community front and center to our audience,” she said. “And what I’ve learned over the years of interviewing over 35,000 people one-on-one… is that every single person wants the same thing, and that is the desire to feel seen and to know that what we say matters and to know that we matter.”

She noted that, since launching the Oprah Winfrey Network in 2011, she had helped air documentaries on transgender people, including Becoming Chaz, about Cher’s son Chaz Bono, and I Am Jazz, about young trans youth advocate Jass Jennings.

Even today, Winfrey continues to use her platform to foster understanding towards the LGBTQ+ community. In 2021, she spoke with actor Elliot Page about the “joy” transitioning brought him; in 2016, she spoke with Connie Johnson, wife of retired NBA superstar Magic Johnson, about how she reconciled her Christian faith with her son’s homosexuality; and in 2015, she spoke with gay former-child actor Danny Pintaro about his meth addiction.

Oprah also played the role of a therapist in the history-making 1997 episode of Ellen DeGeneres’ sitcom Ellen, in which DeGeneres came out. Oprah and Ellen have remained friendly. In 2017, she and DeGeneres created some on-screen hilarity by going grocery shopping together and inviting themselves over to another customer’s home to make dinner. In 2021, she spoke with DeGeneres about her feelings upon ending her long-running talk daytime talk show.

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