Today Ellen DeGeneres turns 59 years young, and today we get to celebrate a life that has ignited progressive change for gay women in America. In 1997, a week before the famous ‘coming out’ episode of the ABC sitcom Ellen was aired, in which DeGeneres’ character, Ellen Morgan, came out as a lesbian, Ellen DeGeneres came out herself.
Today is Ellen’s birthday, but it also gives us the opportunity to honor and reflect back on another historic moment. Two decades ago, at age 39, Ellen appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show and in other media interviews to speak candidly about her coming out and how it affected her career.
Let us not forget that at the time, she risked everything, and she paid a price. When ratings dropped and advertisers pulled out, the sitcom Ellen was cancelled, and consequently, Ellen’s career suffered for the next several years. Apparently, America was not yet ready for a gay character on television, which is something Ellen learned the hard way. She told Oprah Winfrey in 1999, “I really thought people would be more embracing and more welcoming when I did what I did because they’d had time to get to know me first…and I learned a big lesson – that it doesn’t change overnight.”
Maybe not overnight, but change did come, even if it was a long time coming. Here is some footage of Ellen’s 1999 interview with Oprah.
The actress, comedian, and hit talk show host prevailed, even beyond what she thought possible. Ellen’s courage inspired many women to brave their own truth, and it also led to the founding of this website, AfterEllen.com by Sarah Warn in 2002. It’s hard to imagine being an out lesbian today without the strength and fearless steps Ellen took to pave the way. She created a place for acceptance and representation of lesbian and gay people in the media that we so desperately needed. Her journey was not an easy one at times, but she’s a shining example that it really does get better.
We celebrated when she found the love she deserved and married Portia de Rossi in 2008, because seeing Ellen happy just makes the world a better place.
In 2016, Ellen DeGeneres was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama.
The Ellen DeGeneres Show has won a long list of Emmy awards, and is one of the most successful talk show hosts running since 2003. Today on Ellen, celebrate this pioneering woman’s 59th birthday.
It’s a well known fact that women get better with age, and Ellen DeGeneres is a leading example of that truth.
We’ve been inspired, we’ve cried, but mostly we have laughed, and laughed until we’ve cried. Happy Birthday, Ellen!