DeGeneres talks about coming out experience

By Yael Kohen
Daily Staff Reporter

Amidst screams of "We love Ellen" that permeated a packed Hill Auditorium last night and followed by a standing ovation, Ellen DeGeneres had to wait five minutes before she could say a word.

Comedian DeGeneres, best known for her role in the television sitcom "Ellen," was "Speaking Honestly" to students and Ann Arbor residents about her experiences and thoughts about life and about being gay. Brought to campus by the University Activities Center committee Laughtrack, DeGeneres made Ann Arbor the final stop on her four-part tour.

Even though DeGeneres came to speak on a serious note, it did not stop her from trying to get a laugh out of the audience.

"What do I say?" DeGeneres asked. "I could say I'm gay but I think everyone knows that."


DAVID ROCHKIND/Daily
Comedian Ellen DeGeneres speaks to a packed Hill Auditorium yesterday in an address titled "Speaking Honestly."
But when DeGeneres finally got to the crux of her speech, she started speaking about her childhood.

While growing up, DeGeneres said, she was taught that "everyone has to like me" and it didn't matter what she really felt. "Of course I end up in a business where everyone has to like me," she said, adding that the fear of rejection made her hide the fact that she was a lesbian.

DeGeneres said that as a comedian she wanted "to reach everybody" and make everybody laugh "because it was about humor" and not about being gay.

Although DeGeneres said she did not want to publicize her private life out of fear of injuring her career, she finally used her television sitcom "Ellen" to announce her sexual orientation. In 1997 in a landmark episode, character Ellen Morgan - DeGeneres' on-screen person - came out on national television, causing a stir nationwide.

"The fact that I've turned out to be a such a controversial figure is hysterical to me," DeGeneres said, getting a rise out of the crowd.

"When I came out I really did it for personal reasons," she said. "I don't care if people don't like me anymore."

DeGeneres said that coming out was giving up "the shame that I had been living with."

The audience cheered as DeGeneres recounted her "coming out" experience.

It was not until the TV celebrity came out as a lesbian that she became more aware of the discrimination that surrounded her and others for being gay.

Once she became aware of her political and social situation DeGeneres began speaking at high schools and colleges to educate and provide support for those who need it.

But it was important for DeGeneres to make one point clear. "I am not representing every gay person ... these are my thoughts and my feelings."

Still, she said, some religious extremists are going to far. DeGeneres cited several examples, such as ads that interpret sexual orientation as something that can be changed. She said that this type of thinking only perpetuates hatred.

DeGeneres also said she wanted to make it clear that she was not attacking religion. "I believe in God.

"I don't want to change," she said. "I'm happy with who I am."

DeGeneres spoke against those who fear the "gay lifestyle."

"We don't have a lifestyle. We have a life."

Everybody has a purpose in life, DeGeneres said, adding that she believes that she was meant to be gay, that she was meant to be ashamed and she was meant to finally overcome that shame.

She also said that she believes she was meant to be famous because this would allow her to finally reach people and try to reshape social ideas.

That is the only reason to be famous, DeGeneres said.

Many members of the audience said they admired DeGeneres' courage for coming out in the public spotlight.

"I admire what she's doing," said LSA sophomore Sarah Weinstein, adding that it was "better for her to be happy and honest than staying in the spotlight."

Former Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Affairs administrative assistant John Vasquez, who coordinated a reception that followed DeGeneres' speech, said DeGeneres gives legitimacy to the LGBT cause.

"She's a prominent lesbian woman on television and media. It's important to have that kind of representation from our community," Vasquez said.

04-09-99

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