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Oprah Winfrey Honors Brother Who Died of AIDS at 29: 'I Wish He Could Have Lived to Witness These Liberated Times'

"At the time, I didn't know how deeply my brother internalized the shame he felt about being gay," said Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey honored her brother, Jeffrey Lee, while accepting the Vanguard Award at the 35th GLAAD Media Awards.

Winfrey became emotional while talking about Lee, who died of AIDS at age 29 in 1989, during her acceptance speech at Thursday night's ceremony.

"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. Growing up at the time we did, in the community we did, we didn't have the language to understand or speak about sexuality and gender in the way we do now," said the former talk show host.

"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 continued.

Winfrey said that her brother inspired The Oprah Winfrey Show, which aired its first episode on Sep. 8, 1986 and ended in May 2011.

<p>Michael Kovac/Getty Images</p> Oprah Winfrey at the 35th GLAAD Media Awards

Michael Kovac/Getty Images

Oprah Winfrey at the 35th GLAAD Media Awards

Related: See Reneé Rapp, Niecy Nash-Betts, Orville Peck and More LGBTQ+ Stars at the 35th GLAAD Awards

"All the years of the Oprah show for me were about sharing stories that actually helped people be more of their authentic selves and 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."

A press release by GLAAD states that Winfrey received the honor due to her "championing allyship and making a significant difference in promoting acceptance of LGBTQ people and issues."

<p>Taylor Hill/WireImage</p> Oprah Winfrey at the 2023 Academy Museum Gala

Taylor Hill/WireImage

Oprah Winfrey at the 2023 Academy Museum Gala

Related: Kate Hudson Dazzles on the GLAAD Media Awards Stage Wearing a Gorgeous White Ruffle Dress

Winfrey — wearing a chic black blazer dress with purple embellishments — gave examples of how she shed light on those values in her show and the many years after.

"I am proud to support and produce projects centering on LGBTQ storylines through Harpo, through OWN. And 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.

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"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- because 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 continued.

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