This past Sunday, April 30th, marked the 20th anniversary of Ellen DeGeneres coming out on her TV sitcom, “Ellen”, through her fictional counterpart Ellen Morgan. It was a historic moment; for the first time ever, a prime-time sitcom would feature a leading character who was gay.
Although just a week earlier Ellen had her famous “Yep, I’m Gay” Time magazine cover, LGBTQ issues were still seen as controversial, especially on major television networks (a “parental advisory” warning was actually put on the episode). A homophobic backlash ensued, not only against Ellen but also against her co-star and the love interest in the episode, Laura Dern, who wasn’t able to secure work for more than a year. Oprah Winfrey, who guest starred as Ellen’s therapist, received hate mail as well. Advertisers dropped out. The show’s ratings dropped, and was canceled soon after.
Today, Ellen DeGeneres is more than just “gay.” She is America’s favorite daytime talk show host, a recipient of 29 Emmys and 20 People’s Choice Awards, which is more than any other person, and the unforgettable voice of the beloved Dory in Finding Nemo. She also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2016. Ellen is gay, and an activist, and a comedian, and an actress, and the courageous person who changed pop culture forever, ushering in an era where being gay isn’t strange or comical or controversial–and certainly does not warrant a “parental advisory” warning.
“Obviously, we have come a long way in the past 20 years. Even when this show started, the network was very uncomfortable with me even talking about my sexuality or my relationship,” Ellen said on her talk show this past Friday. “Now we’re here and I’ve done a whole show about the fact that I’m gay, so we have come a long way. But we still have a long way to go to make sure everybody has the right to be who they are.” So much love to you, Ellen. Here’s to continuing the good fight.