Last night, the 2015 amfAR Foundation for AIDS research honored TV showrunner Ryan Murphy at its Inspiration Gala in Los Angeles, simultaneously raising more than $3 million for AIDS research. It was a decidedly Ryan Murphy affair: Fellow luminaries like Julia Roberts and Gwyneth Paltrow introduced him, and the audience included many of the cast members of his many shows, including Jamie Lee Curtis, Angela Bassett, Sarah Paulson, and Matt Bomer. Lady Gaga gave a special performance, but really, the highlight of the night is Murphy’s speech, which he called “the speech of [his] life.” He talked about living through the AIDS crisis, picking up a guy for the first time at the shoe store where he worked, and working as a gay man in Hollywood. He also talked about why he has so many shows. “You bring every last drop out of today because you may not get another one,” he said.
Thank you. Thank you, Julia Roberts. Thank you, Gwyneth. Let me get out my speech here.
I am very honored to be here tonight to amfAR’s big “gay” of the year, and I have to tell you this right upfront. If I could go back in time and tell my 18-year-old self that I would be alive in 2015 and receiving this award, that young man would not have believed it. I have lost over ten friends to HIV and AIDS, and honestly, I consider me standing here to be some kind of miracle, and I think many of us in this room feel the same way. I feel so lucky and grateful and blessed to be here and to have the right to marry, which I did, to my husband, David Miller. Miraculously, as Julia Roberts said, I have two young sons, Logan and Ford. These are privileges and joys I never, ever thought I would have when I was growing up. Like many people here tonight, my entire adult life has been lived in the shadowy spectrum of the HIV and AIDS crisis, and the trauma of it and the pain of it and the fear of it, and that confuses everything that I do and I have done in my career and in my life.
Okay, so this is what happened the first time I ever picked up a guy. I was 16, and I was working in a shoe store in Indianapolis called Adam’s Shoes. I was previous fired from Floor Shop Shoes because I refused to touch feet, so to me, Adam’s Shoes was this amazing place where I could just toss the Candie’s of my girlfriends. It was a great job. And a good-looking guy, 25, came in. I was very nervous, and he picked me up and we went back to his house, and he poured me a Diet Coke. I swear to God I asked for it. And I glanced at his coffee table, and there was a copy of the New York Native, and there was this horrible story about this new disease called AIDS. And I read that article as he poured the beverage, and I fled out the door. And in many ways in my life, I could tell you that I have never stopped running.
Recently in the media, whenever articles are written about me and my career, there is one word that is used over and over to define me, to describe me and the work that I do, and that word is prolific, and the content is always kind of negative. I do too much. I tip too much. And I was thinking about that word prolific as I prepared for tonight, which in many ways is the speech of my life, and I have to tell you that I love creating things. I love making things. I love putting together groups of people. And there are so many of them here in the room tonight that I love, and it’s one of the triumphs in my life that I can get these groups of people that shouldn’t be together together. And my plate does overflow sometimes, and I do this largely now, I realize, because of the HIV/AIDS crisis. When it’s engraved in you as a young person and you don’t think you have tomorrow, you bring every last drop out of today because you may not get another one.
When I was in my 20s and all my friends were getting sick around me and dying, many of them refusing to admit what was happening to them because of the stigma and the shame, I got into this habit where once or so a month I would literally have a panic attack and go to the local emergency room, and I would ask them for an HIV test. This usually happened around two in the morning. I would drive myself. And at the local hospital, there was one super-cool nurse there named Doris, and she would actually let me smoke while she did the blood draw, anything to make me stop shaking. And I’m here to tell you that in ten years span, until I went to psychological counseling, which many in this room will tell you did not work, I did over 60 of these tests, these blood draws. And I know so many of you who can relate to this. And with these tests that people today don’t know came two weeks of waiting, waiting for the results. Well, I would waste away from nerves. I would not eat. I would break into tears at odd times. And I would wait for the eventual death that I knew was coming my way. And I tell you this story not to be [shocking] but to get to this part of my life, which was the bargaining phase. And I would say, “Dear God, please let me be okay, and I will start working at an HIV hotline,” which I did. I would say, “Dear God, please let my [friend] live, and I’ll give money when I make some,” which I did, and he did not live.
And all of this somehow to me has felt like small potatoes and not enough payback to the community that I love. And that is why this honor tonight is so important to me, because I now feel like I do have something to offer, which is to pledge my total support to being a lifelong ambassador to amfAR, to this organization’s vital and important issues. And we raised $3.1 million tonight, and I’m so happy. And I look out here tonight, and I want to tell you guys that this is an important room. And this is a room that literally can and has changed the world in my estimation. This is the room, and this is the generation, that helped get our first African-American president elected. And this is the room that will get the first woman elected as president. And this is the room, as we’ve done tonight, that will help to find a cure for HIV/AIDS by 2020, [and I am willing to do whatever I have to do to help].
The HIV epidemic affected us as a community in so many ways. I can remember first getting involved in the entertainment industry in 1996 and asking myself, Is it okay to be me? Can I be out of the closet and still get work? As if I would ever pass as anything else. I remember saying and asking friends with the question, “Can I wear a bracelet to a meeting at a studio, or is that too much?”
My friend Nina Jacobson is here tonight. In 1997, she and five of us, all gay, started an organization called Out There, and we would meet in living rooms and patios, and we would talk about the agent who was fired for being gay because that was allowed at the time. And we would wonder, “Should we be out? Should we dare pitch stories about HIV, AIDS, and gay characters? Should we remain neutral?” Neutral was a big word then. And if a bracelet was too much, what about a mock turtleneck? … And I wore it and I got the job. For myself, and for so many others who have been to countless funerals, the answer was clear, to me at least, that was just, you know, fuck it. You only get one life. You only get one chance to tell your story. And I think Nina will agree with me and others here in this room that an entire generation was propelled out of the closet because of the HIV/AIDS crisis, myself included. And was it easy? Not always. But was it worth it? Absolutely.
Because of the work of amfAR and so many people in this room, the AIDS crisis also gave birth to something else in my life that I never thought I would see, and that was the dream of equality. And I remember when my beloved grandmother, Nana Myrtle, we would watch the news together every night, and every year the local station would cover the gay pride parade, and there would be the simple shot of the drunk drag queen on heels, and she would look at me, and she would proclaim, “Look, Ryan. Look at the queer.” And then we kept watching the news as I grew up, and there became stories about AIDS and activists, and the stories about human suffering and wasted young bodies covered in sores, dying in friend’s arms, [and] the battle cry, “Do not let us die,” and I remember her watching and being quiet and making comments no longer, and in some way emphasizing. A light had gone off in her soul, and it was very powerful as a kid to watch that because of this horrible, horrible fight and the tears of rage. To my grandmother, and to so many other people in the world, because of this crisis, we who were gay were suddenly human, too.
And I don’t believe marriage equality would have happened without the HIV/AIDS battle, which knocked down the doors of discrimination. And I also believe that this equality would not have happened without television and gay characters ... And I have always known that if characters can come into your living rooms, they become real to you. They become like a family member. I see it over and over again. I hear it so often. And Glee and Modern Family are given a lot of credit for ushering in this constitutional gift, but tonight I would like to spotlight perhaps the true heroes here that are our allies who backed these shows and got them made not knowing what boundaries they were pushing, or what economic values they may have to wage. They just like the fucking shows, and they like the characters ,and they believed in everyone’s right to have a voice and to be equal in our world.
So I would like to thank you, to say thank you to my great friends Dana Walden and Gary Goodman and Peter Rice, who are here tonight and who sponsor tonight’s amfAR’s benefit and me in such a big, big, major way and help us break this mold. You guys have changed so many millions of lives with your personal and corporate bravery. You have saved thousands of lives. You have created family and health-care rights and bridged a war [bigger] than you will ever, ever know, and that is a great legacy that you all have. I’m so proud of you.
I want to thank my team who’s here tonight. I love my team, uh, for supporting me and amfAR in such a big way, and that is Bryan Lourd, Kevin Huvane, Simon Halls, Joe Cohen … You guys are all like my brothers. You put up with a lot of shit, and I love you.
And one of the greatest things about my life is that I have been given the privilege to seek out and meet people who I admire, people who are among the brightest lights and the biggest talents in the universe. And to my joy, Julia Roberts, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Lady Gaga are not just my friends but the bravest, boldest hearts in the biz, but they are also amazing champions of equal rights. They stand up for our community time and time again, and I want to tell them: I love you and I’m proud of you and thank you for being here with me tonight.
I also want to thank Michael Lombardo of HBO, who green-lit the movie I made called The Normal Heart after 30 years of development hell. Larry Kramer’s story of love and loss in the ’80s was, in many ways, Michael’s story, and my story, in some way. And Michael and I talk, and we marvel constantly that we were able to come out on the other side of this crisis to tell the tale, to keep the memory alive of so many young men and women ... Which brings me to my last point.
So many people have watched The Normal Heart and write me on social media, and they say, “I had no idea that this happened. I had no idea that so many people have suffered so much.” And I always have the same reply to this, and I write them back and I say, “It did happen, and it is still happening.” And we all need to get involved and spread the word that the crisis continues, and that the cure is still on the horizon, and we need to continue, as Sharon Stone, who I love, said, “We need to keep storming up that hill.” AmfAR leads the charge, as you have heard tonight, and I just want to tell the room that I’m so honored to be one their soldiers. Thank you so much.