From the BBC (which considers this front-page news):
Comedian Ellen DeGeneres was praised by the US president for her influence on the gay rights movement as she received the country’s highest civilian honour.
Barack Obama said it was easy to forget the risk Ellen DeGeneres took to come out as gay in 1997.
He said her bravery helped “push our country in the direction of justice”.
“It’s easy to forget now, when we’ve come so far… just how much courage was required for Ellen to come out on the most public of stages almost 20 years ago,” he said during the award ceremony at the White House.
“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.”
It is probably easy to forget how far we’ve come in twenty years because it’s equally easy to remember what 1997 was like, and a hotbed of homophobia the western world was not.
I was in university in 1997, the year Tony Blair won the General Election for Labour with no little help from Peter Mandelson. Julien Clary was a household name and Graham Norton was getting there. Diana died in 1997 and Elton John – who came out of the closet in 1976, when times really were different – wrote a song for her which reached number one on the singles chart. The Mardis Gras was a mainstream event in Manchester, and Canal Street was as much a feature of the city as Maine Road.
Perhaps New York was different, and perhaps women coming out as gay was less common, and hence more difficult, than it was for men. I just get the feeling there are vested interests out there trying to convince people that twenty years ago the world was a darker place than it was, and any progress is due to the benevolent actions of our enlightened political classes. So we must grant them more power and allow them to intrude more deeply into our personal lives, of course.
Obama would have had a stronger point had he said 1987, and definitely 1977. But 1997? Nah. Sex and the City hit the screens in 1998, and the (many) references to gay life and culture in there were hardly shocking. Philadelphia came out in cinemas in 1993. Things have improved to some degree of course, but I think any changes in public attitudes towards gays in the last 20 years have come almost exclusively from the older generations dying out and being replaced by people for whom homosexuality is unremarkable.