#ThrowbackThursday: Ellen DeGeneres Came Out 20 Years Ago

by HRC Staff

Ellen DeGeneres came out publicly on her TV show Ellen on April 30, 1997, in “The Puppy Episode.”

Post submitted by Hayley Miller, former HRC Associate Director of Digital and Social

This week, we mark the 20th anniversary of Ellen DeGeneres coming out.

DeGeneres came out publicly on her TV show Ellen on April 30, 1997, in “The Puppy Episode.” The episode featured several big names, including Oprah Winfrey, Demi Moore, Billy Bob Thornton, k.d. lang, Melissa Etheridge and Laura Dern, and a brief cameo by DeGeneres’ real-life mom and longtime HRC supporter Betty DeGeneres.

Ellen’s courageous decision to live openly and honestly – both on and off screen – was truly historic. Not long after coming out, DeGeneres was honored at HRC’s first-ever National Dinner with our National Civil Rights Award.

In her acceptance speech, she said:

“This hasn’t been an easy journey for me. I lived with a sense of shame for a long time. Every interview, I tried to dodge around that dreaded question, ‘Are you gay?’ My answer was always:

‘My private life is my private life.’ And it is. But my sexuality is as much a part of me as my skin color. I tried to justify why I should keep it hidden for as long as I could. I finally got to a point where living honestly and being proud of who I am was more important than fame. Ironically, my being honest made me more famous. So much for those who said it would hurt my career. I was willing to risk it all and I was rewarded for it. My life is better than it’s ever been - I found love and there’s nothing more important than that…

I feel so good knowing I’ve made a contribution - that’s my reward. I never wanted to be an activist - I just wanted to entertain people to make them feel good. But as I’ve witnessed the discrimination -the double standards- and heard the statistics of teen suicides-I’ve had to re-think that. If by standing up for what I think is right makes me an activist- I’m an activist.”

During DeGeneres’ coming out episode, HRC planned coming out house parties across the country and sponsored a TV commercial about anti-LGBTQ job discrimination. While the national ABC Network turned the ad down, citing its policy against “controversial issue advertising,” 65 ABC affiliates across the country accepted the ad and 12 refused. HRC ultimately aired the spot in 35 markets across the country, raising awareness around the issue of job discrimination against LGBTQ Americans.

Stay turned to HRC’s blog as we highlight Ellen DeGeneres and the historic impact she has made for LGBTQ people everywhere.

Coming out -- whether it is as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or allied -- is a deeply personal journey for every individual. For more resources on coming out, visit HRC’s Coming Out Center.

Coming Out