Almost 20 years after publicly coming out as gay, Ellen DeGeneres has received a Medal of Freedom presented to her by President Obama for her services as a LGBT advocate and role model.
The Medal of Freedom is the highest honour that can be given to a civilian and is presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavours.
“In a career spanning three decades, Ellen DeGeneres has lifted our spirits and brought joy to our lives as a standup comic, actor and television star,” said Obama, presenting the 57-year-old with her medal.
“In every role, she reminds us to be kind to one another and to treat people as each of us wants to be treated. At a pivotal moment, her courage and candor helped change the hearts and minds of millions of Americans, accelerating our nation’s constant drive towards equality and acceptance for all. Again and again, Ellen DeGeneres has shown us that a single individual can make the world a more fun, more open, more loving place so long as we just keep swimming.”
In his touching speech dedicated to Ellen, who was visibly crying, Obama applauded her for her brave decision to publicly reveal her sexuality on her TV show Ellen in 1997, becoming the first leading character on a TV series to be openly gay as well as coming out to the general public.
“It’s easy to forget now, when we’ve come so far, where now marriage is equal under the law, just how much courage was required for Ellen to come out on the most public of stages almost 20 years ago,” said Obama, who confessed to getting “choked up” during his speech.
“Just how important it was, not just to the LGBT community, but for all of us to see somebody so full of kindness and light, somebody we liked so much, somebody who could be our neighbor, or our colleague, or our sister, challenge our own assumptions. Remind us that we have more in common that we realise. Push our country in the direction of justice. What an incredible burden that was to bear, to risk your career like that. People don’t do that very often. And then to have the hopes of millions on your shoulders,” he continued.
Past openly gay and lesbian honourees of the medal include Stephen Sondheim, Sally Ride, Harvey Milk, Billie Jean King and Bayard Rustin.
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