Twenty years after Ellen DeGeneres announced she was gay on primetime television, the effect of her decision is clearer than ever.

ELLEN - "The Puppy Episode" - Airdate: April 30, 1997. (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images) ELLEN DEGENERES;OPRAH WINFREY


Original article from Huffpost

Sylvia Green didn’t care about the money. She just wanted to work for Ellen DeGeneres.

It was 1996 and Green had left a high-powered job in public relations to pursue a career in television writing. She’d found some work helping out with shows like “The Nanny” and“Mad About You.” But when she was offered the chance to join “Ellen” as a writer’s assistant in 1996, she couldn’t resist.

“Ellen,” the sitcom, was at the time just a moderately successful TV show about a somewhat awkward 30-something bookstore owner. But Ellen, the woman, was America’s sweetheart. Green’s bosses offered her a raise so she’d stay at her current job, but she turned it down. She had already sacrificed a lot to pursue her dream of writing for television. In “Ellen,” Green thought she might have found what she was looking for.

She took the job.

A few days after she started, one of the producers’ assistants pulled her into a room, closed the door, and told her a secret: A month earlier, during lunch at her home in Los Angeles, DeGeneres had revealed to the show’s writers and producers something that would change not only her life, but all of theirs, too. DeGeneres wanted to come out on the show.No TV character even remotely as famous as Ellen Morgan, DeGeneres’ character on the show, had ever announced they were gay on primetime television before, and prejudice against the LGBTQ community was still rampant. That year, a Gallup poll found that 68 percent of Americans did not believe same-sex marriage should be legal — a clear sign that even a widely loved woman couldn’t come out on primetime television without risks.

Jonathan Stark, a writer on “Ellen,” initially wasn’t sure he wanted to go through with the plan. Vance DeGeneres, Ellen’s brother, who was also an occasional writer on the show, feared for his sister’s welfare. Dava Savel, a co-executive producer, said she knew the show would never be the same.

“She was the girl next door,” Savel said. “Everyone loved her, and we were basically shooting it in the foot and hoping it didn’t bleed out.”

Privately, ABC had many of the same fears, and executives said they would not officially approve the episode until they had seen a fully formed script, Green remembered.

But Disney, which had acquired ABC in 1995, loved the idea, and pushed ABC to make it happen. By 1996, Disney’s corporate culture had already become much more LGBTQ-friendly than ABC’s. The company had multiple gay executives. It hosted “gay days at the park,” said Pete Aronson, then an executive vice president at Disney. Dean Valentine, then the president of Walt Disney Television, told DeGeneres that he wanted her team to take the idea as far as they could, and really challenge people.

“She was so grateful that Disney was understanding,” said Savel, who remembers tears rolling down DeGeneres’ face after Disney told her they supported her decision. “She just felt like such a huge weight had been lifted off of her.”