Dead By Dawn
Recently Ellen DeGeneres celebrated the 20th anniversary of the coming out episode of her sitcom, and it made me reflect on that. I remember so vividly watching that episode when I was in college, and how big it seemed culturally but also how great the impact was on me perfectly. The idea that a gay character would be the headliner of a sitcom in a pre-Will and Grace world was unthinkable, and I remember tuning in and being amazed and awed that they were actually talking about gay issues on TV. It made me feel hopeful and normal and empowered.
I also remember the storm that followed. The sitcom had always been benign feel-good fun and that didn't change just because the character came out, but the network plopped up those parental advisories as if just by existing we were dangerous to the youth of America. I remember Oprah interviewing Ellen and the Oprah audience (which I would argue is the one that Ellen inherited for her talk show) being surprisingly hostile. Laura Dern said that just because she appeared on the episode she didn't get work for a year after. Oprah has said she was stunned by the massive amounts of vile hate mail and calls she received. The cast revealed that there were bomb threats called in to the studio that would halt production while bomb-sniffing dogs were brought in.
In some ways, that feels like such a different world. In the last two decades so much has changed, and it gratifies me to see Ellen flourishing after it really felt she was blackballed from the industry for a while.
But it's good to look back, to never forget where we came from, what we went through, so that we recognize there is still fighting to be done. Let's celebrate the victories but not grow complacent.
And thank you to people like Ellen who have been pioneers blazing the trail to make it a little easier for the rest of us.