Madonna made a surprise appearance at the star-studded amfAR Gala Los Angeles to present her longtime friend and collaborator Jeremy Scott with the Award of Courage in recognition of his work with the organization and his commitment to the fight against HIV/AIDS.
The eleventh edition of the annual event was held in an elaborately decorated tent at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood on Thursday night after a one-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The gala, which was sponsored by Cadillac and FIJI Water, raised more than $1.8 million for HIV/AIDS research.
Shortly after an Ellen Von Unwerth photograph of Madonna was auctioned off for $70,000, the Queen of Pop herself took the stage and paid tribute to the Moschino creative director with a heartfelt speech, in which she also recalled how she was drawn into the fight against the devastating epidemic.
“In 1991, I stood on the amfAR stage and I was forced to clear up rumors that I had AIDS,” Madonna said. “I recall many journalists sticking microphones in my face, asking me, attacking me even, and saying ‘Madonna, Madonna is it true? Are you HIV positive? ’And of course my reply was ‘no, I just want to help people who are.’”
She continued, “That was an extremely eye-opening experience. I understood then that there was and there still is so much fear. That people thought if you stood next to a person with AIDS, or of course, hugged a person with AIDS, that you could get it. I witnessed how damaging it was. The hatred, the shaming, the fear, the misinformation that surrounded those suffering from this disease and unfortunately that fear still exists today. I’m sure that you are aware of it. I knew in that moment that my fight had just begun.”
The superstar acknowledged that the battle against HIV/AIDs is ongoing, noting that 1.5 million people had been infected with the disease in last year. “The fight is still not over,” Madonna said. “We can never be too complacent when it comes to the silent killer that continues to wreak havoc in people’s lives across the globe.”
Madonna went on to laud Scott’s work to raise funds for HIV/AIDs research from his involvement with the 1999 Life Ball in Vienna to his partnership with the Keith Haring Foundation, (RED), the Trevor Project and amfAR to carrying on the legacy of late Moschino founder Franco Moschino, who passed away from complications due to AIDS in 1994.
“You use your platform, and your platform shoes, to change the way that people look at others who are different, who are unique, who are extraordinary and often marginalized,” Madonna said. “I would say that you are destined for greatness but you are already great.”
Scott was visibly touched as he embraced Madonna and accepted his award. He recounted being bullied in his teenage years and thinking to himself, “One day, I’m going to be friends with Madonna.”
He said, “It’s hard for others to even understand a time before social media and TikTok and having glimpses into other people’s lives and before a time when Ryan Murphy’s programs proliferated the airwaves with gay characters and cast, and way before Lil Nas X was topping the charts about bottoming, even before there was the term ally.”
“There was only one word that represented a safe haven for young gays boys like me and that word was Madonna,” Scott said to cheers and applause from the audience.
He continued, “On behalf of all the gay boys and gay girls who you made feel seen, appreciated and loved, I am so humbled to accept this honor from the most courageous woman I know.”
On the red carpet, Scott, who was clad in a colorful suit that he said was inspired by “nursery rhymes and stuffed animals and all things cozy and cute”, described how he felt about receiving the award from Madonna.
He told Variety, “I’m beside myself. Out of body experience. Someone who literally when people were afraid to shake the hands of people with HIV and AIDS, she was out there fighting, bringing awareness, she’s lost so many friends. So for someone who has been so much in the fight for so long to come and honor me, it’s just, I don’t have words, I really don’t.”
The social media platform TikTok was also honored at the gala with influencer Addison Rae presenting TikTok Philanthropy and Education Lead Brett M. Peters with the Visionary Award in recognition of the company’s work to educate young people about HIV/AIDS.
During the night, celebrities including Alessandra Ambrosio, Garcelle Beauvais, Ashley Benson, Bobby Berk, Jenna Dewan, Diplo, Kathy and Rick Hilton, Paris Jackson, Milla Jovovich, Meg Ryan and Bella Thorne enjoyed performances by Bebe Rexha and OneRepublic.