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Oprah Winfrey honors her brother, who died of AIDS at 29, at the GLAAD Media Awards

"I wish he could have lived to witness these liberated times and be here with me tonight," she said, accepting this year's Vanguard Award.

Oprah Winfrey paid tribute to her late brother, Jeffrey Lee, while accepting the 2024 Vanguard Award at the 35th GLAAD Media Awards on Thursday.

"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,” the television icon said during her speech. “Growing up at the time we did, in the community that we did, we didn't have the language to understand or speak about sexuality and gender in the way that we do now.”

Winfrey became choked up as she confessed, “At the time, I didn't know how deeply my brother internalized the shame he felt about being gay. I wish he could have lived to witness these liberated times and be here with me tonight.”

She explained that the entire purpose of her eponymous hit talk show, which aired from 1986 until 2011, was to share “stories that actually helped people be more of their authentic selves.”

“I know that that is the truest form of what it means to be free," she said. "To have personal freedom. To be able to fully be who you are. To have the truest expression of yourself as a human being." 

Winfrey received the award for “championing allyship and making a significant difference in promoting acceptance of LGBTQ people and issues," GLAAD stated in a press release. During her speech, Winfrey reflected on several episodes of The Oprah Winfrey Show, including when it celebrated National Coming Out Day in 1988 and spoke with AIDS activist Hydeia Broadbent in 1996. 

“My intention at the time was to make it clear that every single person who comes to this planet deserves the right to love the person they want to love and be the person they most fully want to be,” she said. 

<p>Joe Scarnici/Getty</p> Oprah Winfrey

Joe Scarnici/Getty

Oprah Winfrey

These days, Winfrey said she is “proud to support and produce projects centering on LGBTQ storylines” through the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) and her production company Harpo. 

“I will continue to hire queer and trans filmmakers to bring authentic characters to the screen, like nominees here tonight Trace Lysette and our fantastic Hulu series Black Cake," said Winfrey. "And I'm so grateful to be able to work with GLAAD to make sure we get it right along the way. Because this is what I know: I know, I know for sure, and that is when we can see one another — truly see one another — when we are open to supporting the truth of a fellow human, it makes for a full, rich, vibrant life for us all.”

She concluded, “And that’s what I wish my brother Jeffrey could’ve experienced: a world that could see him for who he was, and appreciate him for what he brought to this world.”

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