Last November, when then-President Barack Obama was preparing to award Ellen DeGeneres the Presidential Medal of Freedom -- the nation’s highest civilian honor -- he reminded those attending the White House event why Ellen was such a pioneer:
It’s easy to forget now, when we’ve come so far, where now marriage is equal under the law, just how much courage was required for Ellen to come out on the most public of stages almost 20 years ago. Just how important it was not just for the LGBT community, but for all us to see somebody so full of kindness and light — somebody we liked so much, somebody who could be our neighbor or our colleague or our sister — challenge our own assumptions, remind us that we have more in common than we realize, push our country in the direction of justice. What an incredible burden it was to bear, to risk your career like that. People don’t do that very often.
President Obama’s remarks showed that Ellen was so much more than just a comedic star. She had become a seminal figure in shaping America’s attitudes towards LGBTQ people, and showing LGBTQ people in a positive light.
On Friday, to mark the 20th anniversary of her historic coming out, Warner Brothers President Peter Roth presented a check to Ellen for $50,000 to HRC. It was a generous donation in her honor to commemorate that history-making moment that changed the lives of so many people.
As we honor Ellen for her courage, we take a look back at moments that showcased the many times she’s helped make our society a little bit more inclusive.
1. When she spoke out against bullying on her talk show in the wake of tragedies involving LGBTQ youth suicides.
2. When, after an anti-LGBTQ pastor accused her of celebrating her “lesbianism,” she responded in classic Ellen fashion.
3. When she donated $25,000 to a fund for the survivors of the Pulse nightclub shooting, and gave Tony Marrero -- one of the survivors the surprise of a lifetime.
4. When she schooled Senator John McCain on the importance of LGBTQ rights and marriage equality.
5. When she featured two best friends on her show -- one gay, the other straight -- who attended prom together.
6. When she told our nation’s youth that there’s nothing wrong with being different.
7. When she gave Blossom Brown, a transgender student and HRC volunteer, $20,000 to help her follow of her dream of becoming nurse.
8. When she spoke out against hate and advocated for tolerance after the murder of Matthew Shepard, an openly gay man who was brutally killed in Wyoming.
9. When former President Obama praised her for making our country a little more accepting of one another.
10. And of course the moment that started it all -- when she decided to come out in the most public way possible on her TV show, Ellen.
There’s no one like Ellen. Two decades ago, she made history by becoming the first openly gay actress to play an openly gay character on television -- sparking a national conversation by putting LGBTQ issues front and center. Since then, she has shown the nation there is nothing more rewarding than living as your most authentic self.