Oprah shares Pride Month message, reflects on her younger brother's death from AIDS

Oprah Winfrey opened Pride Month with a video supporting the LGBTQ+ community that referenced her late brother’s struggle with AIDS.

“It was 35 years ago that my younger brother Jeffrey Lee died from AIDS,” Winfrey said in a video posted to the Oprah Daily Instagram. “He was 29 years old. The year was 1989 and the world was an extremely cruel place, not just for people suffering from AIDS, but also for LGBTQ people in general.

“I often think if he’d lived he’d be so amazed at how much the world has changed, that there actually is gay marriage and a Pride Month.”

Gay marriage was legalized in the United States in 2015, but has recently come under new attacks as anti-LGBTQ+ laws spread across the country and the overturn of Roe vs. Wade threatens the legal precedent on which gay marriage was permitted. In California, gay marriage protections will return to the ballot in 2024.

“How different his life might have been had he lived in these times,” Winfrey continued in the post labeled “Oprah’s Pride Month Message.” “In a world that saw and appreciated him for who he was rather than attempting to shame him for his sexuality.”

LGBTQ+ acceptance has continued to rise in the United States following the legalization of gay marriage. Seventy-one percent of Americans believe those in gay and lesbian marriages should be afforded the same rights as those in heterosexual marriages, and 75% of the country believes gay and lesbian couples should be able to adopt children, according to Gallup. Prior to legalization, those numbers were 55% and 63%, respectively.

“I believe that every single person has the right to love who they want to love, and be the person they most want to be,” Oprah concluded . “And whether or not you’re celebrating Pride this month or always, I wish for you the continued freedom to rise to your truest highest expression of yourself as a human being.”

Oprah’s message inspired an outpouring of support online.

“I think about all the friends I lost in the 80s,” actor Holly Robinson Peete commented. “Beautiful, beautiful men so talented so much to offer and just gone…. Oprah is right it was such a cruel time. Our President wouldn’t even say the word AIDS… It was a terrible time.”

“Thank you Oprah for always being such a fervent and enthusiastic Ally to our community,” film director Nathan Hale Williams added. “Through your show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, many people were able to see the humanity of the LGBTQIA community for the first time. It opened eyes, minds and hearts forever changing our position in this world and changing the world at the same time. Eternally grateful.”

Oprah has consistently promoted LGBTQ+ rights issues. In 1987, the TV magnate took “The Oprah Winfrey Show” to West Virginia to investigate local AIDS issues, and her show has regularly celebrated National Coming Out Day while featuring activists and prominent LGBTQ+ figures. Her media company, Harpo Productions, also produces a variety of LGBTQ+ content.

In 2014, she won the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation’s Vanguard Award, for those who promote LGBTQ+ issues. “At a time when it was potentially career-ending to support LGBTQ people, Oprah Winfrey did what’s right and championed our community’s stories,” GLAAD President and Chief Executive Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement at the time. “A pioneer for diverse and inclusive media, she shines a powerful light on HIV, coming out, LGBTQ people, our families and the challenges we face which educated and moved countless around the world.”

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