I remember Ellen coming out in 1997, and how big of a deal it was on her sitcom and in real life. It was so brave and was such an important moment for America. Television comes into our living rooms, bedrooms and joins us with families and friends to tell the stories of the day. Information is power, and stories can change hearts and minds.
Ellen’s story was on a sitcom, and as ridiculous as the plots can be, the characters and actors become known to the viewer, endeared and familiar. The main character we’d laughed with for four years was coming out of the closet in the most public way. It was a wraught moment for anyone gay, including me as an adolescent that had just started exploring that possibility myself. All eyes were on Ellen as she declared “I’m gay” on her sitcom, and on the cover of Time Magazine, back when magazines were picked up from newsstands and read in public. It was triumphant.
It came with a grave reality that unfair as it was she might never work again. There was so much backlash and she was the butt of every joke for a very long time. But just five years later she came out with “Finding Nemo” and her talk show. The lesson of course is resilience, that if she had given up there would be things she could never have imagined that she would have missed out on, and frankly the whole world would have missed out too. So shine your light, and take a good gay television history lesson while enjoying the 20th anniversary of “Ellen” on Ellen.
Just two days after this episode aired The Ellen DeGeneres Show won best talk show entertainment at the 44th Daytime Emmy Awards. You can read more about that here.