President Obama Credited Ellen DeGeneres for Gay Rights Progress

February 12th 2016

Kyle Jaeger

President Barack Obama appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show on Friday, where he was thanked for his efforts to advance gay rights in the U.S. But while he accepted the host's praise, Obama said that it was really DeGeneres who deserved recognition for enabling the progress that his administration was able to achieve.

"As much as we've done with laws and ending Don't Ask, Don't Tell, etc. — changing hearts and minds — I don't think anybody's been more influential than you on that," Obama said. "Your courage — and you're just really likable. You being willing to claim who you were then suddenly empowers other people."

DeGeneres' openness about her own sexuality, especially on a highly viewed daytime television program (The Ellen DeGeneres Show, which premiered in 2003, averages around 3.9 million viewers per episode), allowed a wide audience to relate to, and empathize with, gay people who have been historically marginalized and discriminated against. She came out as gay in a historic episode of Oprah’s Master Class in 1997. In her role as a likeable influencer, DeGeneres helped shift attitudes about the gay community in a way that bolstered Obama's efforts on Capitol Hill.

"And then attitudes shift, and the laws followed," Obama said. "But it started with folks like you."

DeGeneres appeared visibly moved by the president's compliment. Then, after a short silence, the host joked, "I'm not really gay. I just thought it would work and I've had to stick with it because people responded well." The pair laughed together in what was arguably one of the more memorable moments of the show's history.

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