JAY-Z may have 21 Grammy Awards to his credit, but now he and his mother share a special honor from GLAAD.
Gloria Carter was on hand to accept a special recognition award at the 29th annual GLAAD Media Awards in New York City on Saturday. She and JAY-Z were honored for “Smile,” a track off his 4:44 album that addressed her publicly coming out as gay.
“I didn’t realize how we touched so many lives,” she told PEOPLE ahead of the ceremony. “I’m just glad that I can inspire people.”
Carter was presented with the award by another prominent gay woman, Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts.
“I accept it with pride and joy on behalf of my son and myself. Thanks to my family for loving me unconditionally, no matter what. Thanks to my partner, for loving me and helping me free myself from being in the shadows. Thanks to you, to all the people whose lives I touched, for your support, by just telling my truth,” Carter said.
“‘Smile’ became a reality because I shared with my son who I am. Not that people didn’t know; I was just someone they didn’t talk about but they loved me anyway. But for me, this was the first time that I spoke to anyone about who I really am. My son cried and said, ‘It must have been horrible to live that way for so long.'”
She added, “My life wasn’t horrible, I chose to protect my family from ignorance. I was happy but I was not free.”
Carter went on to discuss the profound effect that finding love had on her. “One day, I met someone who made my heart sing, made me no longer want to sneak a peek at them but actually look at them with loving eyes. Love gave me the courage to take the power that I allowed other people to have over my life for fear of them revealing my secret that wasn’t really a secret,” Carter said.
“Here I am, I’m loving, I’m respectful, I’m productive, and I’m a human being who has a right to love who I love. So everybody, just smile, be free. Thank you, and God bless.”
Released last June, “Smile” made headlines as JAY-Z paid tribute to his mother, her struggle, and her strength: “Mama had four kids, but she’s a lesbian / Had to pretend so long that she’s a thespian / Had to hide in the closet, so she medicate / Society shame and the pain was too much to take.”
Carter closes out the song with a moving monologue of her own:
Living in the shadow
Can you imagine what kind of life it is to live?
In the shadows, people see you as happy and free
Because that’s what you want them to see
Living two lives, happy, but not free
You live in the shadows for fear of someone hurting your family or the person you love
The world is changing and they say it’s time to be free
But you live with the fear of just being me
Living in the shadow feels like the safe place to be
No harm for them, no harm for me
But life is short, and it’s time to be free
Love who you love, because life isn’t guaranteed
JAY-Z, 48, previously said he “cried” and “was so happy” that his mother was finally “free” to be herself. Watch Carter’s full acceptance speech above.