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Ellen DeGeneres 10 years After Coming Out

Ten Years of Ellen DeGeneres being an Out Lesbian

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Ellen on the Cover of Time Magazine

Ellen on the Cover of Time Magazine

April 2007 marks the 10th anniversary of the famous Time magazine cover with a photo of Ellen DeGeneres proclaiming, “Yep, I’m Gay.” Not only did Ellen DeGeneres come out, but the character she played on her TV, show, Ellen Morgan, came out at the same time. It was a historic event for television. Never before had a gay or lesbian character been a lead on a show. And wow, the actor was coming out at the same time.

Gays and lesbians everywhere celebrated Ellen’s coming out. Parties and gala events were held around the country. One station in Birmingham, AL refused to air the show and Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) swooped down there and with Birmingham Pride put on private showings for 3,000 local Ellen fans. More than 42 million people tuned in to watch Ellen’s famous “Puppy Episode.”

Mostly Ellen’s coming out was met with fanfare, but it’s not surprising to learn some people were not happy about it. Jerry Falwell called her Ellen Degenerate. To which Ellen replied, "Really? He called me that? I've been getting that since the fourth grade." JC Penney and Chrysler dropped their advertising for the show.

Did Ellen Shun the Gay Press?

There were even complaints from the gay media because Ellen decided to only do interviews with the mainstream press. “What does it mean that while Ellen Morgan joins the tribe, her creator won’t at least speak directly and frankly to the constituency for whom her character is presently and historically speaking? Can one imagine, for example, if Bill Cosby had refused to address the African-American community about the Huxtables?” Sarah Petit wrote in Out magazine in May 1997.

And that’s not even mentioning the bomb threats to the studio.

But mostly it was celebration. The episode won an Emmy award for Writing and a Peabody award. The show won a GLAAD media award for Outstanding TV comedy series. Ellen was named Entertainer of the Year 1997 by Entertainment Weekly magazine.

Coming Out is Freeing for Ellen

Ellen herself was excited. In the 1997 Time magazine interview she said, “For me this has been the most freeing experience because people can’t hurt me anymore. I don’t have to worry about somebody saying something about me, or a reporter trying to find out information. Literally, as soon as I made this decision, I lost weight. My skin has cleared up. I don’t have anything to be scared of, which I think outweighs whatever else happens in my career.”

Oh, if she could only see what was to come. The backlash:

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