Oprah Winfrey discusses her brother who died of AIDS in powerful Pride Month message

Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey Photo: Shutterstock

Media legend Oprah Winfrey posted a Pride Month message talking about her younger brother Jeffrey who died of AIDS during his young adulthood. Winfrey said her brother would be amazed at the increased acceptance of LGBTQ+ people nowadays, and she told viewers that she hopes they have support to live their most authentic lives.

“It was 35 years ago that my younger brother, Jeffrey Lee died from AIDS,” Winfrey said at the start of her message, which she posted Wednesday on 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,” she continued. “There actually is a marriage and a Pride Month [now]. How different his life might have been had he lived in these times, in a world that saw and appreciated him for who he was, rather than attempting to shame him for his sexuality.”

“I believe that person has the right to love who they want to love and be the person they most want to be,” she added. “And my hope for you is that you are living a life that feels authentic to you and that you have the support around you to do so, no matter your sexuality and whether or not you’re celebrating pride this month or always, I wish for you the continued to rise to your truest, highest expression of yourself as a human being.”

Winfrey also spoke about her younger brother in late March while accepting a Vanguard Award from the queer media watchdog group GLAAD. GLAAD presents the award to allies who have made a significant difference in promoting acceptance of LGBTQ+ people and issues.

During her speech, she mentioned that The Oprah Winfrey Show — her televised talk show which ran from 1986 to 2011 — worked during the AIDS crisis to correct “rampant misinformation and misguided fear” about gay men. In 1987, she brought her talk show to Williamson, West Virginia — a town that had shut down a local pool after an HIV-positive man was found to have swam there — to hold a town hall where medical experts explained how the virus is transmitted.

“I wanted to create a safe space to bring the lives and the background stories of the LGBTQ community front and center to our audience,” she said. “And what I’ve learned over the years of interviewing over 35,000 people one-on-one… is that every single person wants the same thing, and that is the desire to feel seen and to know that what we say matters and to know that we matter.”

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