How LGBTQIA Representation On TV Has Changed Since Ellen Came Out 20 Years Ago

Photo via Ellen

Calling it a milestone doesn’t begin to cover it

Ellen DeGeneres publicly came out 20 years ago this weekend, thus prominently centering a lesbian in the living rooms of 42 million viewers. Ellen's pioneering move followed longtime speculation surrounding the comedian after news leaked she was lobbying NBC for her titular character on her sitcom Ellen to come out. It then approached its peak when DeGeneres covered TIME Magazine's April 14 issue with a headline reading "Yep, I'm Gay," just before the coming out episode aired. The storm that followed "The Puppy Episode" would be unprecedented in its impact, both positive and negative, for the LGBTQIA community.

The media frenzy DeGeneres started exposed a raging homophobia within America and got the nation talking about LGBTQIA visibility and rights. Today, Oprah, appearing on The Ellen DeGeneres Show alongside Laura Dern, who played DeGeneres' love interest on Ellen, shared her experience following her guest role in the coming out episode, saying how shocking it was to realize a vast majority of the American population did not agree with DeGeneres' truth.

"I was never so surprised [as I was] by the hatred and how loud it was," she said. DeGeneres went on to face her critics on Oprah's talk show, engaging with them, and frankly discussing the situation. (Ellen was, unfortunately, canceled a season later.)

In the two decades since, LGBTQIA visibility on television and in the movies has improved. NBC premiered Will & Grace a year after Ellen's "Puppy Episode"; 2000 saw Queer as Folk begin its five-year run on Showtime; The L Word came in 2004; Noah's Arc in 2005. It's the 2010s that have seen a significant increase in visibility, with shows like Glee, Modern Family, How To Get Away With Murder, and Ugly Betty featuring prominent queer storylines and characters. Logo's runaway success RuPaul's Drag Race is now being broadcast to a larger audience on VH1. Ellen DeGeneres herself returned to NBC in 2003 with a talk show that has gone on to win nearly 40 Emmys. 

There's no way of telling where we would be today in terms of LGBTQIA visibility had DeGeneres not come out. Her bravery helped make last year the best year ever for queer visibility according to GLAAD's annual Where We Are on TV Report. That's huge. Representation and visibility matter immensely. To see someone like you on television and in the movies is necessary to personal growth and self-acceptance; it normalizes an experience like learning your sexual and gender identity, which can often feel alienating. 

Much progress is still yet to be made, though. Though the increase in LGBTQIA visibility is encouraging, there's a need for diversity in the narratives being told. It's dismaying how almost every queer female on television gets killed off. HBO's groundbreaking show Looking was problematic thanks to a lack of storylines from outside the affluent white gay urban experience. (Unfortunately, the show was canceled just as it was beginning to make some solid headway in that department.) GLAAD reports that transgender representation doubled last year, which is something to celebrate, but the cry for more is loud—especially when movies about trans youth get slapped with a rating that prevents the youth from actually seeing them. (The movie in question is now being recut for a PG-13 audience.)

The important thing is that visibility is increasing. DeGeneres changed television forever. "It’s easy to forget now, when we’ve come so far, where now marriage is equal under the law—just how much courage was required for Ellen to come out on the most public of stages almost 20 years ago," President Obama said, awarding DeGeneres the Presidential Medal of Freedom last year. "Just how important it was not just to the LGBT community, but for all of us to see somebody so full of kindness and light, somebody we liked so much, somebody who could be our neighbor or our colleague or our sister challenge our own assumptions, remind us that we have more in common than we realize, push our country in the direction of justice." That's something to celebrate. Hell, dance because of it. It's what DeGeneres would want us to do.

Cara Delevingne, Ashley Benson, and Agyness Deyn also star

Elisabeth Moss is trying to keep it together as punk rock artist Becky Something in the trailer for forthcoming movie Her Smell. She's surrounded by iconic faces who make up her band Something She, Gayle Rankin as Ali van der Wolff and Agyness Deyn as Marielle Hell, as she grapples with the fact that her musical prowess just doesn't draw as big a crowd as it used to.

In addition to the wavering fame, Becky is "grappling with motherhood, exhausted bandmates, nervous record company executives, and a new generation of rising talent eager to usurp her stardom," according to a press release. "When Becky's chaos and excesses derail a recording session and national tour, she finds herself shunned, isolated and alone. Forced to get sober, temper her demons, and reckon with the past, she retreats from the spotlight and tries to recapture the creative inspiration that led her band to success." And what's clear from the trailer, Moss is absolutely meant for this role, transforming into the punk on the brink of collapse.

Rounding out the cast are Ashley Benson, Cara Delevingne, and Dan Stevens. Watch the official trailer, below. Her Smell hits theaters on April 12 in New York and 14 in L.A., with "national expansion to follow."




Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

In an acceptance speech at the BRIT Awards

As The 1975 accepted the BRIT Award for Best British group, outspoken frontman Matty Healy shared the words of journalist Laura Snapes as a way of calling out misogyny that remains ever-present in the music industry. Healy lifted a powerful quote from Snapes' coverage of allegations against Ryan Adams for The Guardian: "Male misogynist acts are examined for nuance and defended as traits of 'difficult' artists, [while] women and those who call them out are treated as hysterics who don't understand art."

Snapes reacted almost immediately on Twitter, saying she was "gobsmacked, and honoured that he'd use his platform to make this statement." Snapes had originally written the line for an interview she published with Sun Kil Moon singer Mark Kozelek back in 2015, in response to Kozelek publicly calling her a "bitch" who "totally wants to have my babies" because she requested to speak in person rather than via e-mail, which she brought up in the more recent piece on Adams. Kozelek's vile response, and the misogyny that allowed it to play out without real consequences, it could be argued, could have easily played out in the same way in 2019, which makes her reiteration of the line, and Healy's quoting it on such a large platform, all the more important.

It should be noted that back in December, Healy caught a bit of heat himself on Twitter for an interview with The Fader in which he insinuated that misogyny was an issue exclusive to hip-hop, and that rock 'n' roll had freed itself of it. He clarified at length on Twitter and apologized, saying, "I kinda forget that I'm not very educated on feminism and misogyny and I cant just 'figure stuff out' in public and end up trivializing the complexities of such enormous, experienced issues."