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How One of the Bravest Moments In Television History Paved the Way for Ellen Page's Coming Out Speech

By Dustin Rowles | Think Pieces | February 17, 2014 | Comments ()


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Last Friday, during a lovely speech at the Human Right Campaign’s “Time to THRIVE” conference, Ellen Page revealed that she was gay. It was a personally defining moment, and the way that she came out — nervously asking all of us to be less horrible to one another — couldn’t have been more perfect. It was a terrifically honest, soul-baring decent moment delivered by one of the most decent people in Hollywood.

What was perhaps just as remarkable about the revelation, however, was in how it was received, not with jeers, but with embraces. The fact that Ellen Page is gay was not that big of a deal to most of us, but we were proud for her to be able to come out and admit as much. Even in 2014, it takes courage to openly admit who we are to the rest of the world, but it’s heartening to know that when high-profile actors and athletes come out, they’re not scorned. They get standing ovations.

It hasn’t always been this way. We haven’t always rallied to support those who come out as gay or lesbian. In fact, Ellen Page’s speech reminded me of the coming out revelation of another Ellen. Seventeen years ago, Ellen Degeneres — the lead in a popular ABC sitcom — revealed that she was a lesbian on The Oprah Winfrey Show, and shortly thereafter, her character on that sitcom, Ellen, also announced that she was gay. Despite what the studio audience might have you believe in that scene, however, Degeneres’ revelation was not met with the same kind of acceptance that Ellen Page’s was. Right now in America, there are increasingly smaller pockets of resistance, but seventeen years ago, it was the pockets of acceptance that were smaller.

What Ellen Degeneres did, first on The Oprah Winfrey Show and later, on her own sitcom, was monumental. This was bigger than even a straight man (Tom Hanks) bringing the first gay lead character to a mainstream Hollywood film in Philadelphia. This wasn’t a character. This was a human being. This was a beloved actress choosing to stand up to those conservative forces in 1997 and allow herself to be discriminated against, allow herself to be shouted down, and allow those with different agendas to make her the enemy.

Sweet, charming, funny, and inoffensive, Ellen Degeneres was of course perfectly cast for that role. She had the amazing ability to make the case against homosexuality being an abomination, as so many shouting people had argued — who could ever consider Ellen Degeneres an abomination? — and for easily deflecting criticism with a sly joke, all the while standing out in front and absorbing the scorn and hatred for an entire class of people.

We often forget it now, because many people — celebrities and non-celebrities alike — are more free with their sexuality, more comfortable, and less afraid to be who they are. But Ellen Degeneres was not always the smiling, lovable, infectious talk-show host with a habit of dancing with her guests. She was also a pioneer, and to so very many people — gay and straight alike — a real, honest-to-God hero.

I encourage you to watch this clip from an Ellen Degeneres’ interview back in 1997 with Oprah Winfrey, and pay close attention to Ellen’s face while those in the audience accuse her of flaunting her sexuality, or of being a sinner on the same level with murderers and adulterers. You can almost see her absorb the stings and continue smiling throughout while holding back tears. It’s one of the bravest moments I’ve ever seen on television, and I can’t help but to think that if it weren’t for Ellen Degeneres in 1997, Ellen Page in 2014 might still be holding on to a secret.



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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • kirbyjay

    whatever happened to kd lang?

  • Bert_McGurt

    She's still awesome. Saw her perform a couple of years ago and it was superb. I think she's on Broadway at the moment, actually.

  • kirbyjay

    I remember when Ellen came out "Yup, I'm Gay" and it was Pat Robertson ( I think, or some other like minded religious freak) that called her Ellen Degenerate. That alone should make the homophobes question their beliefs. Side with Ellen or side with Pat? Not even close!

  • lowercase_ryan

    My main lesbian fantasy consists of hanging out and shooting the shit with Ellen and Portia for an afternoon while drinking shitloads of wine.

  • Aaron Schulz

    Yeah they seem like a delightful couple. I assume the two of them are fantastic hosts as well, Portia always seems fun in interviews and obviously Ellen is just a ray of positivity and hugs.

  • Bodhi

    Add some croquet &/or badminton & I'm all in! I just love booze & lawn games...

  • Ruthie O

    Awesome post. Ellen talks about how she came out, the negative reaction, and her subsequent climb to the top in her 2009 Tulane commencement speech. I know this because I show it to my students EVERY SINGLE SEMESTER. The whole speech is funny, sweet, and so so human. Really, it's one of my favorite speeches of all time, and I study rhetoric, so I read/listen to a lot of speeches.

    "I wouldn't change a thing because it was so important for me to lose everything because I found out what the most important thing is: to be true to yourself."

    Oh, and she dances of course. Love her.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

  • MissAmynae

    "Is it above sea level?"

    She is just so damn cool, lovely, and real.

  • chanohack

    I remember when this happened, because my mom stopped watching her show. :( My mom hasn't changed, but I'm glad acceptance has.

  • Robert Sanchez III

    I remember watching the episode of Ellen's sitcom where she comes out when I was a kid and I can honestly say it is one of the main reasons for my acceptance of gay people.

  • competitivenonfiction

    Me too. I will never ever be able to repay Ellen for helping to turn me from someone who was uncomfortable with gay people (verging on homophobic) to someone who hopes to be considered an ally. She has given me friendships with people I would not have deserved to know otherwise.

  • Davis

    This article reeked of smug, this is why people coming out bothers me not the person coming out but the people patting themselves on the back for not being homophobia but then they'll support the magazines and gossip sites that are dragging people out of the closet.

  • Valhallaback Girl

    Umm. If you think that was the point, you weren't paying attention.

  • Davis

    Ok

  • vic

    What on earth are you talking about? Dustin isn't being self-congratulatory here, nor is he praising those who force people out of the closet. Ellen Degeneres came out of her own accord, as did Ellen Page, the point of this article being that Degeneres didn't become unpleasant because of peoples' unkind comments towards her afterwards and thus became a role model of sorts.

    If you are genuinely concerned about people being forced to come out before they feel comfortable doing so, that is a valid point, but it's not relevant here. The fact that this article provoked you into saying this is strange, and is definitely on your end more than Dustin's.

  • Davis

    Nope before ellen came out people you looking to drag her out the closet and you can see tonnes of articles or comments on the internet about ellen page telling her to come out the closet already.

    You see links on this site to celebitchy, lainey and other respectful websites like them and if you read it's a bunch of people who are telling guys like Hugh Jackman to come out of the closet.

  • lowercase_ryan

    then go post your bullshit on celebitchy, lainey, and other such respectful sites.

    We're not the ones.

  • Davis

    I do but you can't comment on the lainey site sweetie and how is not liking outing bullshit?

  • lowercase_ryan

    saying that this site and the people who participate on it, somehow endorse outing people against their will is complete bullshit.

  • Davis

    It's not but it's your opinion i'm not bothered.

  • Last time I checked, nobody on this site supported outing people against their will. In fact, there was at least one post questioning how such an act actually helped the community.

    And while they may link to sites like Celebitchy, I have yet to see them link to articles advocating forced outing. You are blaming this site for the sins another site (with different writers except for one, and she hasn't written any "forced outing" articles AFAIK) have committed, simply because they have the fairly superficial connection of linking occasionally to them.

    Doesn't seem very fair.

    And was this site even in existence when Ellen came out? So how in the hell could they have been "looking to drag her out the closet"? Really, how many of those gossip sites were really up in 1997?

    Seems like the smug is coming from your direction.

  • bbmcrae

    I wish more coherent writing came with it...

  • Davis

    National enquirer and other magazines weren't out in 1997? You want me to find every 'outing' comment and article i've seen on the internet? Not smug for not liking outing, sorry. Still apart of the problem promoting these websites.

  • I didn't ask about the National Enquirer or any magazines. You made a point about WEBSITES, and I was asking if any of the ones you pointed out were even around in 1997.

    It is really arrogant of you to assume you know how people think or feel about certain subjects simply because of something as random and ephemeral and links to a webpage. Hell, Google Ads by its lonesome has led to ostensibly liberal sites to advertise right wing click-bait simply because the algorithms only matches terms, but not the context.

    You are the only one here being smug and self-congratulatory for something that really isn't that impressive. And really, how would you know if these sites really wanted to out gay celebs if you don't read them?

    All I'm saying is, don't break your arm patting yourself on the back so hard.

  • Davis

    Pointing out the hypocrisy not patting myself on the back like most people on this site do. Websites and magazines I said pal and those liberal sites can't help that, but this site. I never I didn't read them but i'm not on them all the time but when i'm on them they just sound bitter and sour; love to make people feel bad about themselves.

  • Laura Rollins

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    ☸☸☸ ☸☸☸ ☸☸☸ ☸☸☸☸ ☸☸☸Oh, and she dances of course. Love her.

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