Madonna at the GLAAD Media Awards

On Sunday night, Madonna took to the stage at the 24th Annual GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) Media Awards in New York to present the Vito Russo Award to award-winning journalist, author and talk show host Anderson Cooper.

The Vito Russo Award is presented to an openly LGBT media professional who has made a significant difference in promoting equality.

Dressed in a mock scout’s uniform – in protest against the Boy Scouts of America’s continued exclusion of gay people – the pop icon gave a rousing speech in defence of gay rights.

“Well, I was a girl scout, but I got kicked out. And you want to know why? Because my skirt was too short, and I never sold enough cookies,” Madonna joked before turning to more serious issues.

“…Things like bigotry, homophobia, hate crimes, bullying and any form of discrimination always seem to be a manifestation of the fear of the unknown. Right?” she asked.

“Most people are not comfortable with things or people that they perceive as different from themselves, and I would wager that if we just took the time to get to know one another, did our own investigation, looked beneath the surface of things, that we would find that we are not so different after all…”

Madonna argued that while many believe that technology is bringing people together the opposite is also taking place and that personal interaction between people from different backgrounds is vital to engender understanding.

She said that the bullying of gay teens is “no different than a white supremacist hanging a black man from a tree before the civil rights movement. OK? It’s no different. 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 education. It’s no crazier than an Iranian gay man being hanged for falling in love with a man.”

Madonna then introduced Cooper as “someone I admire… Someone who has made a difference in the world by promoting equality and giving a voice to the LGBT community”.

Anderson Cooper

In his acceptance remarks, Cooper – who came out in July last year – said that being gay is a “blessing” and thanked his partner, gay bar owner Benjamin Maisani.

“I’ve had so many blessings in my life, and being gay is certainly one of the greatest blessings,” he said.

“It has allowed me to love and to be loved and to help open my head and my heart in ways I could never have predicted. The ability to love one another, the ability to love another person is, in my opinion, one of God’s greatest gifts, and I thank God every day for enabling me to give and share love with the people in my life – my family, and my friends, and my partner Benjamin. Thank you very much, and thank you for being here.”

The Ally Award was also presented to Hollywood director Brett Ratner by hip hop mogul Russell Simmons.

In 2011, Ratner resigned as producer of the Academy Awards after he controversially used a gay slur while promoting his film Tower Heist, telling a journalist that “Rehearsal’s for fags”.

Since then, the director has worked with GLAAD and the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, donating his time to produce and direct a series of videos promoting LGBT equality and addressing the use of anti-gay language among teens.

“I learned a valuable lesson: a word can matter, whether it’s said with malice or as a joke,” Ratner said during his acceptance speech.

“In my life, I spend a lot of time searching deep into my heart for what my true values and beliefs are, and I know that I have love in my heart for everyone. But it doesn’t count for much if it helps to perpetuate and validate the people out there that are truly bigoted and hateful.”

The television drama series Smash, the documentary How to Survive a Plague and television reality show The Amazing Race were also awarded at Sunday’s event for their positive representation of the LGBT community.

Watch Madonna’s speech below.

Watch Anderson Cooper’s speech below.

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