The Backlash Ellen DeGeneres Faced After Coming Out

Season 5 Episode 501
Aired on 10/25/2015 | CC tv-14
When Ellen DeGeneres came out as a lesbian in 1997, more than 40 million people tuned in to see her sitcom character declare that she was gay on primetime television. Following that landmark moment, Ellen appeared on the Oprah Show, agreed to an interview with Time magazine and sat down with Diane Sawyer. The media firestorm that followed, however, was bigger than she ever expected. Religious groups staged protests, commentators criticized her on national news, and her hit show, Ellen, was canceled.

Although Ellen never wanted to be political, she became an unintentional activist for the gay community. "It got to the point where even Elton John—who I had never met in my life—Elton John said, 'We know you're gay. Shut up and be funny,'" she says. "You can imagine how much that hurt me."

During this time, Ellen lost her career and her money, but she gained valuable insight. "It was all kinds of other lessons of learning—what it's like to not be loved and to be the butt of everybody's joke on television and in magazines," she says. "I had to learn what that feels like, to not let things like that get to you."

Watch as Ellen opens up about the positive impact her decision to come out had on others.

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