Born on January 26, 1958 in Metairie, Louisiana, Ellen Lee DeGeneres is a popular comedienne, television host, and actress. She is also a lesbian and a gay-rights advocate.
When DeGeneres was a teenager, she was sexually abused by her stepfather.
Though DeGeneres contends that “I don’t have an agenda” besides simply “trying to influence people … to be more kind and compassionate with one another,” she has made her political perspectives clear on many occasions.
In October 2007, for instance, DeGeneres invited then-presidential candidate Barack Obama to be a guest on her television show. She called it “an honor” to have Obama on the program, and she did a freestyle dance with him.
In February 2008 DeGeneres made an appearance, via satellite, at a Washington, D.C. fundraiser for Hillary Clinton, who was also seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. Two months later, DeGeneres invited Mrs. Clinton onto her program. Clinton, like Obama, was on record as being opposed to gay marriage but supportive of legally protected civil unions. In the course of the interview, DeGeneres told Clinton: “One thing that is very important to me, and another reason that I like you so much, just today, this was just announced that you are going to defend gay rights as president and eliminate inequalities for same-sex couples in federal law.”
By contrast, when DeGeneres had Republican presidential nominee John McCain on her show in May 2008, she dealt with the topic of gay marriage quite differently. McCain’s position on the subject was essentially the same as Obama’s and Clinton’s, but DeGeneres now delivered an impassioned mini-lecture on why she supported gay marriage. She also likened its opponents to people who had fought against voting rights for blacks and women in ages past, and she explicitly characterized McCain’s perspective as an exclusionary, demeaning, “old way of thinking.”
DeGeneres: “Amazing! And you must be thrilled? I mean what, what a moment.”
Matthews: “Well, I am thrilled!”
Matthews: (picking up a shot glass): “To Barack Obama!”
DeGeneres (toasting): “Yeah. To Barack Obama!”
In 2009, a media policy memo requested by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recommended that the State Department utilize “Specialty Media” — singling out such programs as Oprah, Ellen, and The View — to “amplify and deliver messages that advance policymaking” on behalf of the Obama administration. The memo said that DeGeneres was “a big supporter of Hillary Clinton [who was] willing to use her platform to help promote the agenda of the new Secretary of State.”
In May 2012, when President Obama publicly endorsed gay marriage for the first time, DeGeneres told her TV viewers: “What an amazing day for our country. President Obama just came out in support of same-sex marriage and I say, Wow, Wow…. There have been moments in history where someone has had the courage to stand up for what they believe in, and then one action changes everything and I hope that this is one of those times. It takes a brave man to take a stand like this, especially in an election year. So, Mr. President, I say to you, Thank you very, very, very much.” She then led her audience in a standing ovation in Obama’s honor.
In May 2012 as well, DeGeneres brought onto her show Rainer Muuss, a kindergartener with considerable knowledge of U.S. presidential history. At one point in the interview, the youngster expressed his hope that Barack Obama would win re-election because the president had “said that men and men can marry each other, and woman and woman can marry each other, and I think that’s right.” The boy’s remarks were met with thunderous applause from the audience, and DeGeneres told him: “I really like you.”
At an October 2012 awards ceremony at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DeGeneres described how “very, very scary” the prospect of a (Republican) Mitt Romney presidency was to her. Speaking to Politico in early November 2012—just before election day—she reiterated her fear that Romney might win: “If you’re a woman, you should be very, very scared of that, for many reasons. And obviously as a gay person he doesn’t believe in me having the same rights, so of course I’m not happy about that.” DeGeneres added that “as a woman who wants to have the choice to do what she wants to do with her own body,” she was “certainly hoping our president stays put.”
In a March 2014 interview with Barack Obama, DeGeneres lauded the president’s signature Obamacare legislation by saying: “It’s doing very, very well … You’ve got 5 million people signed up so far. An enormous number of people have signed up, so it’s successful…. I think everyone’s very grateful that you did this. And I think it is important for people to sign up.”
In March 2015, DeGeneres invited Michelle Obama onto her show to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the First Lady’s “Let’s Move!” campaign against childhood obesity. At one point in the program, DeGeneres participated in a group dance routine led by Mrs. Obama.
Presenting herself as a devoted environmentalist, DeGeneres in April 2015 marked the occasion of Earth Day by encouraging all her fans to participate in the “Flip Your Fridge” campaign, an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) initiative that urged consumers to recycle their aging refrigerators and upgrade to new, energy-efficient models. According to one of the campaign’s sponsors, GeekSquad.com, “Flip Your Fridge is part of the EPA’s effort to slow climate change … [and] will go a long way toward lowering a household’s environmental footprint.”
In a May 2017 interview, Today host Matt Lauer asked DeGeneres if she would ever invite President Donald Trump onto her program for an interview — as she had done with former president Barack Obama and former 2016 presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton. “Um, no,” DeGeneres replied. “Because I’m not going to change his mind. He’s against everything that I stand for. We need to look at someone else who looks different than us and believes in something that we don’t believe in and still accept them, and still let them have their rights.”
In August 2018, after Democrat congressman Beto O’Rourke spoke out in support of National Football League players who were refusing to stand for the pre-game national anthem, DeGeneres tweeted: “I would like to meet you, @BetoORourke.”
On April 11, 2019, DeGeneres denounced the Trump administration policy on transgenders in the military, which was slated to take effect the following day. The Trump policy was a reversal of President Obama’s June 2016 announcement that transgenders, for the first time in history, would be permitted to join the military beginning approximately a year down the road — i.e., after Obama’s presidency was over. But in July 2017 Trump announced that the U.S. military would generally continue — though with some exceptions — its longstanding policy of not allowing transgender individuals to serve. Pursuant to subsequent orders from the president, then-Defense Secretary James Mattis recommended that transgender individuals be barred from the military if their gender dysphoria required costly gender-reassignment surgery or other treatments that rendered them incapable of serving for extended time periods. Against that backdrop, DeGeneres said on April 11: “Tomorrow, the President’s ban on transgender people serving their country goes into effect. This isn’t about budgets. It’s hatred.”
In May 2019, DeGeneres said that while she was not ready to back one particular candidate in the Democratic presidential primaries, she would definitely support whoever the Democratic nominee turned out to be — because America “definitely” needed “a change” from President Trump. “I care deeply about our country and what’s happening to it,” she said according to Variety magazine. “… I’m going to wait and see who ends up getting everybody’s vote and we’ll see who I get behind…. I kind of have a candidate [in mind] but I’m just going to wait.”
On February 5, 2020 — the day of the U.S. Senate’s impeachment-trial vote on President Trump — DeGeneres’s special guest on her program was Hillary Clinton, who used the show to recite numerous talking points denouncing Trump’s acquittal. Also during the interview, Mrs. Clinton refused to rule out becoming Vice President if the Democrats were to win the White House in November.
In July 2020, BuzzFeed News reported — on the basis of interviews it had conducted with one current and ten former employees on The Ellen DeGeneres Show — that a toxic work culture pervaded the program’s behind-the-scenes operations. Some employees said they had been fired after taking medical leave or bereavement days to attend family funerals. Another claimed to have been reprimanded for creating a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for uncovered medical expenses and then sharing it on social media. Others said they had been instructed not to speak to DeGeneres if they saw her in the office. One black woman reported that colleagues had called her “the PC police” after she objected to the use of the term “spirit animal.” The woman further claimed that she had “essentially walked off the job” after being subjected to repeated comments about her race. “Whenever I brought up an issue to my white male boss, he would bring up some random story about some random Black friend that he had and how they managed to get over stuff,” the woman told Buzzfeed. “He would use his black friend as some way to say, ‘I understand your struggle.’ But it was all performative bullshit.”
In an early August 2020 interview with The Wrap, Hedda Muskat, a former producer for The Ellen DeGeneres Show, claimed that the host was fully cognizant of the toxic work environment surrounding the program. “I had never seen this before,” said Muskat. “I had never been around a toxic host.” She described, for example, one incident where executive producer Ed Glavin screamed at a crew member in front of his colleagues:
“He just went off on them. His whole face turned red. … We were stunned. I was waiting for Ellen to say something. ‘Whoa, Ed, don’t talk like that.’ Do you know what she did? She giggled. She crossed her legs up on the chair and she said, ‘Well, I guess every production needs their dog’ … And from then we knew. Ed was going to be the barking dog — her dog. You could just see everybody’s faces go stiff. We’re professionals; we’re adults. We don’t need a dog to get us to do our jobs … She was the only one giggling.”
Moreover, Muskat told The Wrap that she was sidelined and eventually fired after she refused to hand over names of the sources she had used as the basis for various stories that had played a major role in helping Ellen win the prize for “Outstanding Talk Show” at the Daytime Emmy Awards. As Muskat explained:
“One day I get called into the office. Ed says to me, ‘You know, Hedda, we’re really loving your segments. I don’t know how you do it. We’re going to need all your sources.’ … I’ve worked for 18 years to build those sources. Those sources are why you hired me. From that day on, I felt a turn, that I was really on everybody’s shitlist. They call me in and Ed says, ‘Congratulations on the nomination. We really appreciate what you’ve done, but we no longer need your services.’ … I could have easily done that job for the rest of my life. I knew it inside and out.”
Over the years, DeGeneres has supported dozens of charities and activist organizations. Among them are the Elton John AIDS Foundation, GLAAD, GLSEN, Habitat For Humanity, the Humane Society of the United States, Peace First, PETA, and UNICEF.
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