Today, President Barack Obama recognized several individuals, including Ellen DeGeneres, Bruce Springsteen and more, with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
According to the White House, “The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, 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 endeavors.”
Ellen DeGeneres has been a vocal advocate and figure in the LGBTQ community. Since coming out publicly on her TV show Ellen in 1997, she has continually broken down barriers, frequently sharing the lasting impact of coming out and publicly supporting and encouraging others to live openly and honestly.
“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. 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 realize. 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,” Obama said during the presentation.
“But it’s like Ellen says, “We all want a tortilla chip that can support the weight of guacamole.” Which really makes no sense to me. But I thought would break the mood because I was getting kind of choked up. And she did pay a price. We don’t remember this. I hadn’t remembered it. She did, for a pretty long stretch of time. Even in Hollywood. And yet, today, every day, in every way, Ellen counters what too often divides us with the countless things that bind us together. Inspires us to be better. One joke, one dance at a time,” Obama said.
Among the 21 recipients this year are Kareem Abdul-Jabar, Robert De Niro, Bill and Melinda Gates, Tom Hanks, Diana Ross, Vin Scully and Bruce Springsteen. Earlier this year, Bruce Springsteen spoke out against North Carolina’s discriminatory anti-LGBTQ law, HB2.
Past openly gay and lesbian honorees include Stephen Sondheim, Sally Ride, Harvey Milk, Billie Jean King and Bayard Rustin.
HRC congratulates DeGeneres and the other honorees on this immense honor.