26 May 2016
Wayyy back in April 1997, 42 million American viewers watched Ellen DeGeneres come out as a lesbian on television in the sitcom Ellen.
Wanda Sykes had just joined the writing staff of The Chris Rock Show that year and was watching the backlash grow against DeGeneres from afar.
She was glad it wasn’t her.
DeGeneres’ sitcom was canceled soon after and she had a few lean years professionally, she has since become a beloved daytime talk show host whose wedding to actress Portia de Rossi was featured on the cover of the usually straight and narrow People Magazine.
‘She went through that and look at her now,’ says Sykes who came out publicly in 2008 at a rally to defeat California’s Proposition 8 which, for a time, banned same-sex marriage in that state.
‘What she did definitely helped me to come out,’ she says of DeGeneres. ‘Not just coming out but just coming to grips with it myself like, “Wow, I’m a lesbian.” That was incredibly hard.’
Sykes says it was other people who filled in the holes when her coming out caused her to be shunned by her family for years.
‘It’s having good people around you who fill in… you’ll have another family and they will help you get through it.’