My, how time flies!
It has been two decades since comedian Ellen DeGeneres was given the cover of TIME magazine to confirm that she was, in fact, gay. That same month, on her sitcom Ellen, her character also came out as a lesbian. It was an historic moment and certainly helped many in middle America realize that those pesky gays could be just like regular people. (Go figure!)
TIME asked, "So, for the record, are you yourself gay?" to which DeGeneres responded, "Yes. You're the first person that I've -- I mean I knew that I was going to -- that was one of the things when I decided to have my character on the show come out, I knew I was going to have to come out too. But I didn't want to talk about it until the show was done."
She continued, "I never wanted to be 'the lesbian actress.' I never wanted to be the spokesperson for the gay community. Ever. I did it for my own truth."
Her decision to have her character come out was not as widely supported as it would be today. J.C. Penny and Chrysler withdrew their advertisements for the episode where Ellen makes her announcement, and Wendy's stopped sponsoring the show completely. Ellen was subsequently canceled that same year.
For several years afterwards, the comedian struggled to get work. She found her stride -- and greater acceptance -- in 2003; she not only landed the role of Dory in Finding Nemo, but she was also given her own talk show.
Many celebrities have acknowledged that Ellen's bravery helped them come out themselves.
"You were at the height of your fame and you came out," actress Jane Lynch told DeGeneres in 2010. "And that just blazed a trail for me. It really did. It made it so much easier for me what you did."
In recognition of this milestone, Ellen's talk show will revisit her sitcom alter-ego's coming out with a special star-studded tribute -- including Oprah Winfrey and Laura Dern, Joely Fisher, Clea Lewis and David Anthony Higgins.