Rebel Heart, Social-Political Activist: How Madonna Has Used Her Platform To Take A Stand & Support Human Rights (Madonna 40th Anniversary Special)

Madonna is pictured performing during the “Who’s That Girl World Tour” stop at Madison Square Garden in New York on July 13, 1987, a show that raised $400,000 for amfAR (previously known as American Foundation for AIDS Research). 
Photo by Vinnie Zuffante / Getty Images

There’s a poignant moment in Madonna’s “The Celebration Tour” where the joyous mood of the evening turns somber as the Queen of Pop performs 1986’s “Live To Tell” in a contraption high in the air while giant screens surrounding her display the faces of hundreds of those who lost their lives to AIDS including artist Keith Haring, Freddie Mercury and Martin Burgoyne, a British-born artist who was once Madonna’s roommate and served as tour manager for her first club tour.

Madonna has long been one of the most vocal allies to the LGBTQ+ community as she’s used her platform as a superstar artist — often literally via the touring stage — to raise awareness and funds to support a variety of causes including gun control, women’s rights, education and child welfare.

She also took part in the first Rock the Vote PSA campaign in 1990, controversially wrapped in a United States flag, along with wearing a red bra and underwear. The segment concluded with Madonna declaring: “And if you don’t vote, you’re going to get a spanking.”

As Madonna explains in her 1991 documentary “Madonna: Truth or Dare,” she takes pride in her role as a social activist: “I know I’m not the best singer, and I know I’m not the best dancer, but I’m not interested in that. I’m interested in pushing people’s buttons, in being provocative and in being political.”

The film, which details Madonna’s 1990 “Blond Ambition World Tour,” was significant for showcasing her touring crew and friendships at a time when the gay community faced prejudice and discrimination. Rae Alexandra, staff writer for KQED Arts & Culture, notes, “Because all but one of her dancers were gay, same-sex relationships were presented in the film as just the same as everyone else’s. In 1991, amid the AIDS crisis, the impact of that cannot be overstated.”

Madonna has donated funds and taken part in charity events throughout her career, including her 1987 “Who’s That Girl World Tour” stop at New York’s Madison Square Garden that raised $400,000 for amfAR (previously known as American Foundation for AIDS Research), marking one of the first AIDS benefits given by a superstar, according to Out magazine.

She also helped spread the word about safe sex by including a pamphlet about HIV and AIDS with her 1989 album Like A Prayer.

“I was 19 when that album came out and seeing messages about safer sex written by a hero of mine, telling us how and why we should practice it had such a huge impact. I can honestly say that Madonna’s influence possibly saved my life and that is something I am hugely thankful for,” Edward Russell, the co-host of the podcast “The Grove,” which celebrates Madonna, told the National AIDS Trust.

Madonna’s influence lives on through her activism and philanthropy – notably her charity organizations Ray of Light Foundation, dedicated to promoting “peace, equal right and education for all,” and Raising Malawi, focused on the “most critical needs of vulnerable children” — as well as others as she’s paved the way for further generations of artists to stand up for causes they believe in, whether it’s stars like Lady Gaga supporting the LGBTQ+ community or Olivia Rodrigo’s “GUTS World Tour” partnering with local chapters of the National Network of Abortion Funds.