For Gen. X and Gen. Y, it’s difficult to envision a world where Ellen Degeneres was not publicly out as a cherished, much-beloved lesbian woman. It is startling to recognize that when she finally came out on her primetime television sitcom Ellen, just 20 years ago, a full 68 percent of Americans did not believe same-sex marriage should be legal.
Still, Ellen wanted to speak her truth to the masses, and she fought for the power to do so. Her coming-out episode was internally called “The Puppy Episode,” referring to a joke that Ellen’s character should adopt a puppy since she was not especially interested in men, one of the tropes of classic sitcom plots.
And while we’re able to look back at the moment as iconic, moving, and emotive, it couldn’t have been easy for Ellen. The show was evacuated due to bomb threats. Death threats were taped to her door. Her show was cancelled just one year later.
Ellen’s character coming out also mirrored her own public coming out, and while some applauded her for it, many did not.
Now, 20 years later, the LGBTQ+ community is thanking her for it. #ThankYouEllen began trending on Twitter to honor the anniversary of her coming-out episode, and many Americans are sharing their gratitude with the brave, incredible woman who changed their lives.
Ellen herself also spoke out about how much the episode meant to her.
As former President Barack Obama said when honoring her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, ““What an incredible burden that was to bear.”
Thank you, Ellen, for bearing it.