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Ellen DeGeneres Was a Lesbian Hero — But Who Is She Now?

Ellen DeGeneres

As recently as a few years ago, Ellen DeGeneres was the most universally loved queer woman in the country. In fact, she was one of the most beloved figures, period.

Her 1997 coming out — which made the cover of Time magazine — was so impactful for lesbians around the country that lesbian websites were named after her (even if they became racist TERF garbage sites). In 2009, Ellen and her wife, Portia, were voted America’s favorite celebrity couple in a Popeater poll. They weren’t just the most beloved same-sex couple; they were most loved celebrity couple of any orientation, beating out Brangelina at the peak of their coupledom. 

For many straight people, Ellen was their first lesbian “friend,” someone who helped normalize LGBTQ+ lives. For queer people, she showed us that it was possible to live your truth.

But for me and for countless other queer women, it’s difficult to reconcile how someone who changed how Americans view LGBTQ+ rights and showed millions of queer women that we could have any kind of life we wanted. We wanted be the next Ellen. This week, she went on her incredibly popular daytime show to defend hanging out with former Republican president and probable war criminal George W. Bush.

After social media users noticed her hanging out in the stands with Bush during Sunday’s Dallas Cowboys game, many people wondered why she was spending time with someone who fought against everything she stood for her entire career. Just four years before DeGeneres and DeRossi tied the knot in California, he supported a federal amendment banning same-sex marriage. He further called the Massachusetts Supreme Court’s 2004 decision to legalize marriage equality “very troubling.”

During his campaign for 2000 campaign for president, Bush also opposed same-sex adoptions, LGBTQ+ inclusive hate crimes laws, and the inclusion of queer youth in the Boy Scouts. Those positions did not change during his eight years in office, and he has done nothing to apologize for them since.

But rather than listening to concerns that she was normalizing anti-LGBTQ+ hate, DeGeneres went on her show and said she wasn’t just sitting with Bush — she’s friends with him.

In a clip from that episode, which has now been viewed over 16 million times on Twitter, DeGeneres says that she has “lots of friends who don’t share the same beliefs” as she does. The comedian added that she doesn’t have to agree with Bush to be his friend. As a vegan, she compared it to being friends with people who wear fur — as if that and torturing people, lying about weapons of mass destruction, and vacationing while New Orleans was devastated by Hurricane Katrina are in any way comparable.

Being kind to someone and being friends with them is not the same thing. You can be polite and not call George Bush a “war criminal” or a “bigot” to his face — that seems like a wasted opportunity to me, but hey, to each their own — but you don’t have to celebrate spending time with him. I’m a queer, transgender Latina in a same-sex relationship; I don’t have time to be kind to members of groups that are actively trying to kill me or kick me out of the country. Bush pushed policies that the GOP is still using to attack and demonize people like me today. 

As a queer woman, DeGeneres once served as an example of what my dreams could look like. When I first came out in 2012, I had one of her and Portia’s wedding pictures as my computer background. I wanted to be as happy and fulfilled as she was. However, it’s increasingly difficult to reconcile that image with someone who has used their wealth and fame to be an apologist for people who attack, mock, and deride our community. When Kevin Hart stepped down from the Oscars after a series of anti-LGBTQ+ tweets resurfaced, she didn’t just defend him. DeGeneres, one of my lesbian heroes, gave him a platform on her show — a stop on his redemption tour.

Today I find myself asking: Does Ellen Degeneres still represent me? Where is she when Black trans women are murdered? Where is she when the same Republican party her friend represents is trying to make it legal to fire someone for being LGBTQ+? Why has she spoken out more about her friendship with Bush this week than our community’s basic civil rights? Is she even relevant to me at all?

When I think about what it means to be a queer woman in 2019, I’m thinking about fighting against TERFS and the Republican party (I guess DeGeneres never got that memo), finding doctors and therapists who will treat me with respect, talking about True Crime with my friends and spending time with my girlfriend. I think about Steven Universe, Hayley Kiyoko, Janelle Monáe, She-Ra, and Kristen Stewart. When I think of queer women named Ellen, I don’t think of Ellen Degeneres. I think of Ellen Page.

It would be nice to say that I should've known that a cis, white, extremely rich lesbian wouldn’t represent me, especially as she got even more rich, but it was harder to find role models for someone like me back then. It’s been 22 years since she came out, and honestly, I don’t think I want Ellen DeGeneres to represent me anymore. I’m not sure she ever really did.

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