“I’m Ellen, and I’m gay.”
Ellen DeGeneres received massive applause after delivering her first line of today’s monologue on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. “Twenty years ago I said that,” she recalled. “It was a much bigger deal then.”
Today marks the 20th anniversary of the airing of Ellen‘s “coming out” episode on her self-titled ’90s sitcom, and the Emmy-winning host made sure her show was nothing short of a celebration of the times.
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After playing a look-back video of the sitcom and the media storm that followed, Ellen ended her monologue with a heartfelt message.
“It was the hardest thing that I ever had to do in my life. I would not change one moment of it because it led me to be exactly where I am today—standing in front of all of you, which is a joy,” Ellen said as she teared up. “And the fact that all of you and everyone at home is watching me and willing to accept me into your homes every day, when no one thought that would ever happen again—it means the world to me.”
The host, known for serving up a daily dose of upbeat dance moves, concluded, “I thank you and celebrate you all with this dance.”
Ellen continued the celebration of the “The Puppy Episode”—the title given to keep the big reveal a secret—by interviewing Oprah Winfrey, who played her character’s therapist. The two talk show icons sat down to discuss how everything came into play, with Ellen saying she remembered exactly where she was when she called Oprah to see if she’d be part of the show.
“I was really shocked that you said yes,” admitted Ellen.
“I said ‘yes’ immediately, did I not?” Oprah asked. “It wasn’t even one of those, ‘Wait let me think. Let me see.'”
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Ellen said Oprah was at the top of her list because of the legitimacy she would bring to the episode. “You would legitimize all of it. People would go, ‘Oh, we’re not trying to make a joke of this. This is actually serious.'”
Oprah, who received copious amounts of hate mail for her involvement, said she never thought about the aftermath of what would happen: “I so believed in your truth, and I so wanted to support you.”
Oprah explained that times were much different when the show aired and noted how much courage it took for Ellen to do what she did: “You were the bravest woman ever.” Ellen, who received multiple death threats and even a bomb scare after coming out, said, “I decided being truthful was more important than a career.”
The repercussions weren’t only felt by Ellen and Oprah, though. Laura Dern, who played a key role in “The Puppy Episode,” said she also received a lot of backlash. Laura was unable to find work for a year after the episode aired and received warnings from gay and straight colleagues alike.
But, just like Oprah, Laura never thought twice about being part of Ellen’s big moment. “I remember the same bliss of getting to be part of supporting you and this moment, and what a privilege and an honor it felt like,” she said.
Ellen said it was important to have Laura there because she was so comforting. Saying “I’m gay” was especially diffiult: “I would burst into tears every single time.”
The celebration concluded with Ellen saying, “I also want to thank everyone who has supported me every step of the way. Obviously, we have come a long way in the past 20 years. Even when this show started, the network was very uncomfortable with me talking about my sexuality or my relationship. Now, we’re here and I’ve done a whole show about the fact that I’m gay, so we’ve come a long way. But we still have a long way to go to make sure everybody has the right to be who they are. And one way we can start, and I say it every single day, is to be kind to one another.”