Ellen DeGeneres thanked President Obama today during a visit to her show for “what you’ve done for the gay community.”
“I cannot tell you, or thank you enough, for what you’ve done for the gay community,” the out comedian and host said to applause. “So, thank you.”
“It's one of the things I'm proudest of,” the president said, “because my whole political career has been based on the idea that we constantly want to include people and not exclude them. How do we bring more and more people into opportunity and success and feeling hopeful about their lives?”
During his presidency, Obama passed hate-crimes legislation, repealed the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, and he evolved on marriage equality before his reelection, proving to Democrats that it was possible to win even while backing marriage equality. His administration refused to defend the Defense of Marriage Act from challenge at the Supreme Court, where it eventually was ruled unconstitutional. And most recently, Obama issued an executive order banning employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity by any company that has contracts with the federal government. His Defense Department is now examining how to allow full service for transgender members of the military. And the president supports passage of the Equality Act through Congress, though it’s stalled there. In November, Out magazine named Obama Ally of the Year, and he posed for the cover — the first president ever to do that for an LGBT publication.
Still, while Obama’s changed policies, he gave DeGeneres a lot of credit for changing hearts and minds.
“But I will say, we were driving over here today — and I meant this. I said it to my staff — I said, as much as we've done with laws and ending ‘don't ask, don't tell,’ et cetera, changing hearts and minds -- I don't think anybody has been more influential than you on that,” he told DeGeneres. “I really mean that.”
Obama praised her “courage,” which dates back to coming out on her ABC sitcom and with the landmark 1997 cover of Time magazine, headlined “Yep, I’m Gay.”
“You being willing to claim who you were, that suddenly empowers other people,” the president said. “And then suddenly, it's your brother, it's your uncle, it's your best friend, it's your coworkers. And then attitudes shift. And the law is followed, but it started with folks like you. I'm so proud of you.”
DeGeneres, who is a two-time Oscars host, and who has a number of awards for hosting her show, deflected all the praise.
“Well, thank you,” she said. “I’m not really gay.”
“But, on TV, you play one and it's great,” the president joked back.
“I just thought it would work and,” she said to laughs, “and I've had to stick with it, because people were responding.”
Watch a clip from the interview below: