Portia de Rossi Recalls a Time Before ‘Ellen’ at the Paley Center

Portia de Rossi Recalls a Time Before ‘Ellen’ at the Paley Center

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Betty DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi (l-r) at the Paley Center Gala.
Betty DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi at the Paley Center Gala. Photo: Tommaso Boddi/Getty

Portia de Rossi, Jason Collins, Katherine Moennig, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and Eric Stonestreet were some of the many stars who got together at the L.A. Benefit Gala to celebrate how far LGBT equality on television has come.

“Ellen just texted me before we came out tonight and she reminded me that it wasn’t too many years ago where I wouldn’t have been seen dead at an event like this,” de Rossi told the crowd at Skirball Cultural Center. “Even when I was on Ally McBeal, I was very, very closeted and very afraid to live my truth. It means a lot to me, personally, to see how far we’ve come in the last 50 years. It’s kind of wonderful.”

The fundraising event started off with TV scribe and producer Norman Lear showing clips of LGBT characters on TV over the past 50 years, including a clip from his own show All in the Family which had the first openly gay character in a gay sitcom.

The first drama series to use the word “homosexual” in a script was in NBC’s Espionage in 1963.

Since then, LGBT characters have popped up in shows like Nip/Tuck, ER, Queer as Folk, Grey’s Anatomy, Orange is the New Black, and The L Word became the first American television drama whose stories predominately focused on LGBT characters.

“From All in the Family, Soap, All My Children, An Early Frost, LA Law and Roseanne to Will & Grace, The Real World, Ellen, Six Feet Under, The L Word, Glee, Modern Family and dozens more, television has reshaped and redefined American identity and culture and has led to important social change,” noted Maureen Reidy, President & CEO of The Paley Center for Media. “We believe this is the perfect time to celebrate television’s role in LGBT progress, including almost six decades of programming from the Paley Center’s collection that trace the evolution of this issue in the media, and to announce the expansion of our LGBT Collection.”

“Homosexuality was often portrayed as a problem to overcome, but as the decades progressed more nuanced depictions of the challenges facing the LGBT community helped pave the way for groundbreaking series,” said de Rossi, who was accompanied by her mother-in-law, Betty DeGeneres.

Ellen DeGeneres’ influence on television was also highlighted.

Stonestreet and Ferguson talked about how courageous her decision was to come out on her show and the cover of Time magazine in 1997.

“In doing so [DeGeneres] created a world where you can be one of TV’s most popular stars and also be authentically and totally yourself,” Stonestreet said.

NBA’s first openly gay player Jason Collins also took the stage to talk about TV’s depiction of LGBT athletes.

“This has been an amazing year for LGBT athletes,” he said. “I stand before you this evening as living proof that ignorance and intolerance are losing their hold on society. They world as we know it is changing for the better and we are living in an age of possibility.”

The night ended with a look at LGBT characters in television movies and miniseries like That Certain Summer and The Normal Heart, as well as news, documentary and reality programs like An American Family and The Real World.

“Just recently, in the last couple of years on Scandal, when the president of the United States told his male chief of staff to go home to his husband, Ellen and I looked at each other and had a moment because we couldn’t believe we were hearing that,” de Rossi said. “This year has been incredible for our community.”

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