Twenty years ago, Ellen DeGeneres revealed both her character’s and her own homosexuality on her primetime TV sitcom, “Ellen.”
Despite winning an Emmy Award and receiving support from LGBT activists, her announcement was followed by a flood of criticism — advertisers no longer wanted to sponsor the show, she received hate mail, a bomb scare and even death threats.
In an in 1997, Ellen said she knew before she spoke out that people would disagree with her. Initially she felt she should keep her private life to herself, but decided that telling the world who she is in an artistic way could help others recognize her truth in a different, creative light.
Ultimately, DeGeneres said the public needed to know, because “it is okay.”
Her bravery made a world of difference for people around the world, no matter their sexual preference. Today, guests visit her talk show and tell her that she’s their hero. She’s mine too.
Every time I need a good laugh or cry, I use EllenTube or watch her show directly on TV. If I’m stressed out or just need a little boost of energy or wisdom to get me through the day, DeGeneres has always been there for me.
From interviews with Usain Bolt, Two Blind Brothers, Malala Yousafzai and exceptional non-celebrities to antics with audience members, the “Ellen DeGeneres Show” always tells a powerful story.
But these stories could not be told with her magnetic personality, talent, humor, altruism and expertise if she had not shared her own story.
However, it is her genuine strength and courage that helps propel me through life. If Ellen can be bold enough to come out on television — aware of the negative consequences — I feel brave enough and bold enough to be myself, too.
“I think what saved me is being honest,” she once said. “I think I somehow had the courage to do something and to say something that I knew would possibly end my career. Instead of making business more important, I made my soul and my life more important. And I think by being truthful, and being honest, that saved me.”
Although she has appeared on multiple talk shows and films and has received many awards, there is one moment of joy that I cannot seem to push away from memory.
Last year, DeGeneres was by then-President Barack Obama, who needed to use comedic relief to keep from “getting choked up” while giving a speech about her.
Before presenting her with the medal, he discussed how her kindness and relatability has helped “challenge our assumptions, remind us that we have more in common than we realize (and) push our country in the direction of justice — what an incredible weight that is to bear.”
With each show, Ellen closes with the powerful words, “Be kind to one another.” That’s more than enough to make me a better person each day.
Elizabeth Sanchez is the Editor-in-Chief at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Beth_A_Sanchez.