From her days as a standup (about to make a comeback with her 2018 Netflix special!!), to her all-too-short-lived sitcom, to her Instagram posts, which are the most cheerful content in any scroll, Ellen is that rare type of goofball who is universally popular and yet who says, ‘of course there’s room at the lunch table! Come sit with us!’ Growing up in a world after Ellen is a little warmer for lesbians and women who love women.
Over the course of her career, she’s been seen as someone silly and sweet — her comedy is never crass or mean — but that doesn’t mean she’s unwilling to pick sides or take a stand on the issues that matter to her. And when she does, we love her all the more. In honor of her birthday, here’s a list of some of the times we were really glad Ellen was born.
The time her goobery amnesiac tropical fish got her own damn movie
Ellen joked for years on her show that Pixar was making sequels to all the movies except Finding Nemo. OK, maybe the sequel had nothing to do with Ellen wearing down writer/director Andrew Stanton, or keeping the dream alive for Dory’s fans. But her character made quite the impression, and it’s hard to imagine the project being successful without her. In fact, it’s hard to imagine that character being anything other than unbearably annoying, without her.
The time she called out the Prez
The President tweeted about watching Finding Dory a couple days after signing the travel ban. “I don’t get political, so I’m not going to talk about the travel ban, I’m just going to talk about the non-political, family friendly, People’s Choice Award-winning Finding Dory.”
The time she was awarded the Medal of Freedom
Watching Ellen accept the Medal of Freedom was touching because she was so humble and gracious, but also because President Obama seemed so genuinely inspired by her life’s accomplishments. He said, “It’s easy to forget now, when we’ve come so far…just how much courage was required for Ellen to come out on the most public of stages almost 20 years ago.”
I dare you to watch this moment without crying: “Ellen DeGeneres has lifted our spirits… in every role, she reminds us to be kind and to treat people as each of us wants to be treated. At a pivotal moment, her courage and candor helped changed the hearts and minds of millions of Americans, accelerating our nation’s constant drive toward equality and acceptance for all. Again and again, Ellen DeGeneres has shown us that a single individual can make the world a more fun, a more open, a more loving place so long as we just keep swimming.”
The time she wasn’t afraid to hold others in the LGBT community accountable
When Caitlyn Jenner came out as transgender, not many were willing to point out the hypocrisy in not prioritizing lesbian and gay’s civil rights. Ellen asked Jenner’s take on marriage equality, and Jenner commented “OK. If that word marriage is really, really that important to you I can go with it.” Ellen doesn’t often come out and call bullshit, but took a stand on the Howard Stern show of all places. The reality TV star has kept the beef alive, and even wrote about Ellen in the memoir The Secrets of My Life. Honestly, I don’t know how anyone can beef with Ellen, but I do love a celebrity feud (especially when one half of the feud doesn’t seem to notice they’re feuding).
All the times she made it clear that women don’t have to have kids to have fulfilling lives
Ellen and Portia have three cats and two dogs (or maybe more at this point? It’s hard to keep track), but no children. A lot of people don’t know how women of a certain age can go on living without offspring, but these two have been clear that it’s not in their plans, and that’s OK.
As a spinster aunt who loves kids but doesn’t want any, this is one of my favorite of her segments:
All the times Ellen and Portia are so wholesome and sweet
Portia De Rossi, also an Aquarius (happy birthday to you, too, Portia!) loves Ellen even more than we do (wow) and it’s really sweet and cute. For Portia, it was love at first site, but as she told Oprah about their first meeting, “I was not living as an openly gay person and I was very, very afraid that if I talked about being gay it would be the end of my career, so I wasn’t about to then date the most famous lesbian in the world.”
The time she worked against Ag-Gag Bills
Ellen donated $25,000 to the Humane Society in order to fight a Tennessee bill that would make it illegal to capture video evidence of animal abuse on farms. She also supported Prop 2 in California, which would prohibit confinement of farm animals “in a manner that does not allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs.” Ellen has said about animals, “they don’t have voices themselves, they need us.” Providing a platform to talk about these taboo topics in mainstream America is admirable of Ellen.
Portia and Ellen, who’ve also taken a stand against animal testing, were jointly honored with the the Humane Society’s Wyler Award in 2009.
The time she donated 200,000 meals to shelter animals
When Ellen hosted the 2014 Oscars, she included a $10,000 coupon for donations of pet food in 20 of the swag bags given out to those celebrities who didn’t win an award. The nominees for Best Actor, Actress, Director, etc. who didn’t walk home with a statue got to feel those everybody’s-a-winner vibes when they picked out their favorite shelter to send the $10,000 worth of food.
The times she encouraged young lesbians
Ellen Page said that coming out was the most nervous she’s ever been in her entire life. Everyone’s cool and supportive aunt Ellen said, “I’m so proud of you for coming out and I’m happy for you.”
That time she was unequivocal about the double standard in objectification of women’s bodies
“The focus is women need to keep themselves up to look good for either a man or whatever, for society, it’s not fair.”
And of course, the time Ellen came out on national TV
Ellen has done so much more than coming out on her sitcom in a time when it was not-OK to be a lesbian in mainstream culture. It takes courage to let the world see you, but it’s a gift to yourself and everyone else. Ellen deserves to be celebrated for so many things, but we’ll never forget the Puppy Episode. You can stream the two-part episode here.