This is the best example of why it gets better by far. A few weeks ago Ellen Degeneres got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame:
During her speech, DeGeneres did what she does best—crack jokes. “It is amazing. I spent my entire career trying to conduct myself in a certain way making sure no one walks all over me only to get to a point where people are going to walk all over me. It means so much to me that everyone showed up.”
And walk all over her they did. In 1997, when Ellen came out in real life as did her television character in the sitcom Ellen, the reception was decidedly different.
“The Puppy Episode” and DeGeneres’s attendant coming out generated enormous publicity before the show aired. Right-wing groups like the American Family Association pressured ABC to drop the storyline and Ellen sponsors not to advertise; two occasional advertisers, J. C. Penney and Chrysler, decided not to buy time during the episode. Another sponsor, Wendy’s, decided not to advertise on Ellen again at all. Despite these losses of potential advertisers, ABC turned away ads from two LGBT-oriented sponsors, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and lesbian vacation company Olivia Cruises. Jerry Falwell called DeGeneres “Ellen Degenerate”, to which DeGeneres responded, “I’ve been getting that since the fourth grade. I guess I’m happy I could give him work.”
JC Penny…decided not to buy airtime. Boy they’ve come a long way, haven’t they?
Following “The Puppy Episode”, Ellen was renewed for another season. ABC prefaced each episode of season five with a parental advisory warning. DeGeneres strongly criticized ABC for including the warnings, saying in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, “It was like this voice like you’re entering some kind of radiation center. It was very offensive, and you don’t think that’s going to affect ratings?”
I’ve yet to see any type of disclaimer like this in front of the Ellen talk show. Nor do I recall ever seeing one in front of Will & Grace or Modern Family. We’ll see with tonight’s premire of The New Normal if that’s still policy in the television world.
The change in reception to Ellen Degeneres from being somewhat of a person non grata to being embraced by America as talk television’s sweetheart demonstrates through one persons personal experience why it gets better.
Why It Gets Better is a series of postings showing, real-time, concrete, tangible ways that life is getting better for LGBT people.