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TIME commemorates 20 years since Ellen Degeneres came out

By Ross Semple

It has been 20 years since Ellen Degeneres graced the cover of TIME magazine and revealed she is a lesbian.

Ellen was one of the first high-profile American TV stars to publically come out as LGBT+. At the time, Ellen was starring in her eponymous sitcom on ABC, which had been airing for four seasons.

The cover of the magazine simply read ‘Yep, I’m Gay’, and caused a sensation when it originally came out.

TIME have reprinted the interview from their April 14, 1997 edition on their website to mark the anniversary. It makes for interesting reading, especially when you consider all that Ellen has accomplished in the last two decades.

During the interview, when asked outright about her sexuality, Ellen replied with a simple “Yes”.

“I knew that I was going to—that was one of the things when I decided to have my character on the show come out, I knew I was going to have to come out too. But I didn’t want to talk about it until the show was done,” she revealed at the time.

Ellen drew comparisons between herself and Melissa Etheridge, who had come out in 1993: “I watched my friend Melissa [Etheridge] come out, and she became ‘the lesbian rock star.’ I never wanted to be ‘the lesbian actress.’

“I never wanted to be the spokesperson for the gay community. Ever,” she said. “I did it for my own truth.”

Ellen told TIME that her family were always supportive of her. “I don’t understand a fear of coming out to your friends and family,” she said. “I’ve been really lucky. I have a really great family. I have parents who understand.”

The episode of Ellen that coincided with Ellen’s coming out, ‘The Puppy Episode’, aired on April 30 1997. That episode saw the character Ellen played also come out of the closet to a character played by Laura Dern.

The episode saw the show’s highest ever ratings, with over 40 million viewers. However, some of the show’s advertisers pulled out due to the controversy surrounding the episode.

The series was subsequently cancelled the following year, and Ellen struggled to find work in Hollywood. Twenty years later, she fronts one of the most successful talk shows on TV, she is married to Portia de Rossi and is at the helm of a media empire.

Watch a clip of the coming out episode of Ellen below: