Ellen’s “coming out” interview on Oprah 17 years ago (video)

A clip from Oprah’s interview with Ellen Degeneres, the day Ellen’s “coming out” episode ran on the “Ellen” show in 1997, 17 years ago.


It’s interesting watching this, nearly two decades later (god, we’re getting old).

Ellen talks about how she was always afraid that Oprah wouldn’t like her anymore if she ever found out Ellen was gay.

The other thing that’s so amazing is to see how WELL Ellen handles all of this. There are several audience members who are “Christians” and don’t approve of Ellen. And she just sat there with a smile.

There’s a lesson here for activists in all communities.  Sometimes you win by going on TV, biting your tongue, and simply making it your goal to come across as an awfully nice person.

That was always my goal, going on Fox, especially O’Reilly, to talk gay issues in the late 1990s.  I put on my “Republican suit,” as my friends called it, cleaned up, and tried to come across as the best little boy in the world.  I even called O’Reilly “sir.”  He loved it.  And the audience loved it (judging by the emails I’d get).  And a rather conservative slice of America got to meet one of their first gay people, and they saw that he wasn’t any different from their sons and brothers.

When you’re trying to introduce your community to the world, I’d argue there’s no more effective tactic.

(I’m told that in order to better see my Facebook posts in your feed, you need to “follow” me.)

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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28 Responses to “Ellen’s “coming out” interview on Oprah 17 years ago (video)”

  1. catdogme says:

    I love it how “Christians” want everyone to hear what they have to say but they vehemently refuse to listen to anyone else’s point of view.

  2. catdogme says:

    Not really, but we see what happened to JC Penney, so I guess they got their karma.

  3. Stev84 says:

    That’s true, but there was more. People in the industry flat out stopped talking to her. She was blacklisted.

  4. guest says:

    Has JCPenney ever publicly apologized — including to Ellen herself — for pulling out advertising on her show in 1997? I boycotted JCPenney for years after that. Obviously JCPenney has come around; but I think a public statement of regret would be nice.

  5. emjayay says:

    Ellen’s career suffered after her coming out because something happened to her sitcom and they made all kinds of changes for the worse and it stopped being very funny and started being all about being gay. Which of course could be hilarious, but it wasn’t.

  6. Sweetie says:

    “Ellen talks about how she was always afraid that Oprah wouldn’t like her anymore if she ever found out Ellen was gay.”

    Little quibble. She’s no longer gay?

  7. Sweetie says:

    The buckets are for all the horse manure so you can protect your legs and feet as the religious rationalization process creates depth.

  8. Sweetie says:

    Every pollster says attack ads work better than being nice in America in elections.

    The swift boat thing seems to show that no matter how ridiculously low you choose to go, voters will be impressed.

  9. kandy830 says:

    my Aunty Grace got a nearly new blue Kia by
    working part time from the internet. look at this now G­a­i­n­s­p­o­s­t­.­ℂ­o­m

  10. I think Ellen used what Phyllis Diller knew decades ago; Take your troubles and laugh at them. Making jokes of them destroys their power.

  11. As Judy Shepard said Matt was proud to find out that Ellen had come out in 1997. You might also note that H&R Block has ended the phrase “Mr and Mrs” for “Taxpayer 1 and Taxpayer 2”. As I sit here in Pennsylvania, all the states north (including Canada) and east of us have legal same-sex marriage, plus Maryland and Delaware to our south. It’s hard to believe how far we have come in 17 years, and how far we still must go. I tell my clients that in thirty years, we’ll be wondering what the fuss was about.

  12. Stev84 says:

    Half of that made a difference. Take Portia deRossi’s coming out for example. She was outed when photos of her got published, but it wasn’t really a big deal and her career didn’t suffer like Ellen’s did in the short term.

    “Fun” fact: they even stopped the career of the actress who played her girlfriend on the show. She didn’t get any work for about two years.

  13. It isn’t about winning over the right wingers, it is about winning the moderates.

  14. Drew2u says:

    Of course the gish gallop and stonewalling / being rude during talk segments is being taught. I believe “Out Foxed” covered that tactic. It’s not about having a conversation, it’s about not allowing time for the other side to speak.

  15. Drew2u says:

    I love the “Story of two Ellens” with this, how different Ellen Paige’s coming out is (and some of the same, as well) as compared with Ellen Degeneres. How much has changed in that 17 years!

  16. Indigo says:

    That’s definitely my take on it. In these days when loud music is a justification for killing some kid, the least we can do is shout back.

  17. keirmeister says:

    Depending on the crowd, the “Courtesy Policy” can be ineffective. To many of these right-wingers, if they are biting your head off and you sit there nicely, they’ve won – and therefore must be right. You see it all the time on the news talk shows where the Conservative talks over and yells at the Liberal. It happens so much I swear they must teach it at Republican Boot Camp.

  18. keirmeister says:

    “System of buckets?!?” That’s a new one to me. The first question that comes to mind is, if all of the Scripture is God’s word, who are we to decide which are more important than others?

    And if man can make sure a decision, who decides…and why should the rest of us agree?

    “System of buckets!” Ha ha ha! Sounds like “Series of tubes”….

  19. keirmeister says:

    The first rule of public speaking: Know Your Audience.

    When debating: Know Your Opponent.

    I believe the “Be Nice Always” technique can work – but only if your audience/opponent is open to it. Sometimes when you’re in “enemy territory,” the other side is not interested in a fair discussion – they come close-minded and only willing to attack.

    In my experience, the best way to cut through all of that is to show STRENGTH above anything else. That’s what most right-wingers respond to.

    As an extra cherry on the sundae, I will also use my opponent’s words against him – force him into a defensive position instead of offensive. He may ignore it and keep offending, but it almost always comes out as shrill and incoherent thereafter.

    Oh, and right-wing Christians HATE it when you use Scripture against the crap they spew. It’s a very effective tactic. Watch a right-winger debate John Fugelsang for good examples. You can almost see the right-winger getting a nose bleed.

  20. Indigo says:

    I’m struck by the ‘Courtesy Policy’ that allows Christians to snarl and snark and snap while we’re ceremonially to sit quietly and smile. That’s about as useful as knowing the fish knife from the butter knife and as relevant to our lives as Emily Post’s etiquette on how to be a proper weekend guest at a Virginia fox hunt.

  21. S1AMER says:

    We all owe Ellen a great debt, for coming out in the first place and for being out on her very popular show. Back when so few straight Americans knew any gay people (or knew they knew them, given that so many of us used to be in the closet), Ellen was there as a friendly face, showing that we’re not at all the monsters portrayed by so many hostile clerics and others.

    Also, she’s funny. Her standup always cracked me up.

  22. SkippyFlipjack says:

    Had a very long discussion with a religious sort-of-scholar on a discussion board who laid out this long explanation for how Biblical beliefs have morphed over the years. Apparently they worked out a system of buckets over the centuries into which the various Biblical rules fall. There are ceremonial rules that everyone agrees are archaic, and rules that are sort of optional, and the rules that you really have to follow. Not surprisingly, he said that not being gay fell into the “must follow” rules, while the no shellfish, no lima beans on Tuesday etc fell into the “haha, just kidding” rules.

    They’ve got an answer for everything. No winning with crazy people.

  23. 2patricius2 says:

    I thought the best comment was at the end of the clip where Ellen said about Falwell: “That’s the Lord’s work – name calling.”

  24. SkippyFlipjack says:

    I wish Ellen had just said to Moustache Guy: “Well, OK, but I’m not Christian. So what does that have to do with me?” I mean, how can he answer? God this, God that. Forget debating scripture with him, just tell him to go shout himself silly, there’s no reason in the world that a non-Christian has any reason to care what he thinks. It’s like a college student telling his non-college friends that lunch closes at 1pm. Hey, we eat at restaurants, not the school cafeteria. F*ck off. (This sort of Christian suddenly reminds me of that Chevy Chase-era SNL episode where Star Trek gets cancelled and Spock thinks he can neutralize the network exec with a Vulcan nerve pinch that, in the real world, does nothing.)

    17 years later and some dipsh*t Christians still think the world ought to operate by their own personal religious beliefs. What turds.

  25. glasper9 says:

    Preposterous. Ellen would have known all about Oprah’s special relationship with Gayle King. And the last conclusion you would have drawn from her relationship with Stedman King would be that would be that Oprah had a problem with gay people. Emotional manipulation at its worst.

  26. Hue-Man says:

    “‘Ellen’ Show Gets Highest Ratings in Series History”

    “The syndicated daytime show averaged 4.4 mil viewers for week of December 9, [2013] when guests included Jake Gyllenhaal, Lea Michele and Tom Hanks.” http://variety.com/2013/tv/news/ellen-show-gets-highest-ratings-in-series-history-1200994325/

    I watch her show once a month (usually when a gay actor or singer guests) and enjoy her mastery of the format. For me, the interviews are too short and too superficial but network TV seems to require 5 minutes of fluff; you sense that she would be formidable long-form interviewer if she ever took it up.

    If A-list actors regularly appear on her show, it’s convincing evidence that “the gay” isn’t contagious! I expect she’ll put on a great show at the Oscars.

  27. FatRat says:

    Another Ellen coming out.


    Love the Christian hypocrisy. God writes 10 Commandments, no worry’s on “Thou shalt not commit adultery”. Leviticus written by man, don’t eat lobsters and hate the gays. Cherry picking their beliefs.

  28. And Ellen has survived Falwell going on 7 years now. And that’s not just referring to Falwell’s passing. Ellen won.

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