Ellen Degeneres opened up about the bullying she experienced after coming out on her show 20 years ago.
Ellen came out in 1997 in an episode of her popular sitcom, Ellen. In the late 90’s, there were few LGBTQ characters on TV, and none were the stars of the show.
The network cut back on promotions for her sitcom and a year later it was cancelled.
But Ellen hasn’t talked much about the personal attacks she faced from her colleagues at a time when Jerry Falwell was calling her “Ellen Degenerate” and Oprah, who appeared on Ellen’s coming out episode as her therapist, was called the n-word. “The bullying I endured [in Hollywood] after I came out made up for the lack of it during my childhood,” she told Good Housekeeping.
More than losing her work, she was also angry about the unfairness of what had happened. “I was mad. It didn’t feel fair — I was the same person everyone had always known.”
Particularly infuriating was how her show got an “adult content” warning, even though it depicted much less sex or violence than its contemporaries like Friends. “There were sitcoms before and after mine showing people making out and having sex, and yet my show suddenly got an ‘Adult Content’ warning,” Ellen said. “Nobody told me that was going to happen. I couldn’t believe it the first time I saw it. It was so insulting!”
Not only did she lose her sitcom, no one wanted to hire the person who is now one of the most sought-after celebrities in the world. “I moved out of L.A., went into a severe depression, started seeing a therapist and had to go on antidepressants for the first time in my life,” she said.
She turned to meditation and writing to “climb out” of depression. Now she says that what others say about her doesn’t affect her. “I don’t know what people are saying about me, and I don’t want to know, because I don’t care.”
Ellen, who is more successful now than before she came out, says that she has already forgiven the people who wronged her at the time. “I definitely remember who those people were, but I’ve forgiven them,” she said. “Now, though, when I see those people at functions, there’s definitely an unspoken ‘I made a mistake’ on their part and also an unspoken ‘I accept your apology’ on mine.”
When she got her talk show, Ellen could set the rules and she wanted to make sure that the work environment was nicer than what she had experienced. “I said, ‘Everyone will respect one another,'” Ellen says, remembering how she started to work with her crew. “‘No one will yell at anybody or be disrespectful, and we work as a team. If you’re not going to do that, this is not the place for you.'”
She’ll be turning 60 in a few months, but her light-hearted approach to life, she says, makes her feel much younger. “I can’t even believe I’m going to be 60 — I’m so immature; I’m like a child.”