It’s crazy to think that it has been exactly 20 years since she came out as gay on the cover of Time—a brave, pioneering move that nearly ruined her career forever.
On April 14, 1997, DeGeneres appeared on the cover, accompanied by the text “Yep, I’m Gay.” In the interview, the fiercely private actress explained the decision to come out, the hesitation she felt, and knowing that she would have to after she had her character Ellen Morgan (from her show Ellen) come out as gay, telling Time:
I didn’t want to talk about it until the show was done. And you know, 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. I did it for my own truth.
DeGeneres’ character became the first gay lead character on network television in the US, and was a pretty damn big deal. Sponsors pulled their ads from the show. Her network, ABC, freaked out. Even her co-stars got blacklisted.
It was impossible to imagine then that DeGeneres would become such a beloved, mainstream figure.