Throwback Thursday: Ellen Degeneres Comes Out

This MAKERS Monday we celebrated actor Jane Lynch, who told us how grateful she is for Ellen Degeneres. “The reason I can be [known as an actor] and be openly homosexual is because of Ellen Degeneres,” she said. “She’s a pioneer.” 

In 1994, Ellen Degeneres got her first sitcom, “Ellen.” In 1997, she won her first Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series. She also played the lead character in the series who, in that same Emmy-winning year, became the first gay lead character on TV. Ellen’s character came out at the same time she did. Ellen says her coming out was the greatest thing that ever happened to her. For a while, every time she’d say “I’m gay,” in rehearsal, she would sob; she’d never said it aloud before.  

Soon after, Oprah sat down with Ellen to talk more about her coming out. Ellen said she’d known she was gay since she was a little girl, but that she grew up sheltered and ashamed. “I was just carrying around this sadness inside,” she said. It was a relief to come out.

It wasn’t easy. Ellen received death threats, and bomb threats were called into the show. Advertisers balked, and in 1998, the show was cancelled. Still, Ellen kept writing and acting and in 2003, she became the host of “The Ellen Degeneres Show,” for which she’s won thirteen Emmys. She’s also hosted the Oscars, the Emmys, and the Grammys. She’s a best-selling author and beloved voice of Dori the fish from Finding Nemo. 

Like Jane Lynch said, Ellen’s courage in the face of discrimination and hatred has had an amazing impact on people everywhere. “The reverberations are just huge for humanity.” When actor Ellen Page came out earlier this year, she too expressed her gratitude to Ellen. 

In 2012, JC Penney named Ellen its spokesperson; both the company and Ellen herself received a surprising amount of backlash. Though she doesn’t usually address “the haters” on her show, Ellen took the opportunity to reassert her values. “I stand for honesty, equality, kindness, compassion, treating people the way you want to be treated, and helping those in need. To me, those are traditional values. That’s what I stand for.” 

Learn more about Ellen’s life in her exclusive interview with MAKERS.