It’s been 20 years since Ellen DeGeneres made history and came out on her primetime sitcom – accompanied by a headline of “Yep, I’m Gay” on the cover of Time magazine. H. Alan Scott, who will join us this June in our 2017 LGBTQ Leadership Mission to Israel, remembers and celebrates the first lead character to come out on tv.
I’m a writer. I’m a comic. I’m a Jew. I’m a Midwesterner. And I’m gay. The latter of which I’m only able to openly be, and include into my work in an honest way, because of Ellen DeGeneres.
I was 14 when Ellen DeGeneres and her character Ellen Morgan from Ellen simultaneously came out as gay on April 30, 1997. There are countless LGBTQ people who were impacted by this moment, not to mention greater society as a whole. DeGeneres defined what it meant to be gay at that time, whether she liked it or not. But even though it was a groundbreaking moment for TV history, queer people, and society, it was for me the game-changing moment when I knew the walls of the closet I was living in were about to come tumbling down. If what James Baldwin said in Notes of a Native Son is correct, that, “People are trapped in history, and history is trapped in them,” the moment Ellen DeGeneres uttered the words, “I’m gay,” was the moment in my personal history when I knew nothing was ever going to be the same again.
In 1997, I was a fat 14-year-old with a larger-than-life personality. I used humor to deflect attention away from the obvious: that I was different. I had different tastes than the other kids, different interests. When everyone was obsessing over a sport or a video game, I was watching stand-up comedy, late night talk shows, and of course, Ellen. Comics like DeGeneres, Rosie O’Donnell, Judy Gold and Sandra Bernhard were my everything. (Notice a pattern here? Hint: they’re all gay.). I never thought my interests were wrong or bad; quite the contrary, I thought I had great taste and everyone else was just a bit less sophisticated. I used this false confidence to deflect any negative attention I might have gotten because I was so different.