Pop Culture Intervention

7 Of Our Favorite Post-'Ellen' TV Coming Out Moments And What They Can Teach Us

To celebrate National Coming Out Day.

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This year saw the 20th anniversary of one of LGBT culture's defining pop culture moments: the episode of Ellen in which Ellen DeGeneres comes out, titled "The Puppy Episode," which coincided with the comedian coming out in real life. This iconic dual coming out occasion has come to be seen as a monumental shift in television history, with a clearly defined pre-Ellen and post-Ellen period.


Given that today is National Coming Out Day — a day celebrating gay, lesbian, transgender, and bisexual people being able to live openly and honestly about who they are and who they love — we thought we would look at some of TV's biggest coming out stories since 1997. There have certainly been characters who were influenced by what DeGeneres did, but what about their a-ha realizations and revelations about their true self?

Here are seven of our favorite coming moments of the 21st century and what they can teach us:

Kurt on “Glee”

When Kurt (Chris Colfer) came out to his dad, Burt (Mike O'Malley), in the 2009 episode of Glee titled "Preggers," it was one of those instances of a parent who already knew their child was gay. Kurt works up the courage to reveal this big secret, only to be told that it had been obvious since he was 3 years old — when he just wanted "a pair of sensible heels" for his birthday. Burt responded: "I guess I'm not totally in love with the idea but, if that's who you are, there's nothing I can do about it. And I love you just as much." Sometimes, it's true that our parents know us better than we think they do. Plus, we applaud Kurt's dad for being honest about how he feels but also choosing to stand by his son.

Callie on “Grey’s Anatomy”

Not all coming out moments are pretty, and that's exactly what we see between Callie (Sara Ramirez) and her father, Carlos (Héctor Elizondo), in the 2009 episode of Grey's Anatomy titled "Invasion." Carlos shows up to the hospital with a priest to condemn his daughter for being bisexual, with Callie responding by yelling "you can't pray away the gay" over and over again. Then, later in the episode, she acknowledges that it was sprung on him and that it will take time to understand. She thinks he should have undying love because he is a parent and he says he is worried, bringing up religion as the reason why not being heterosexual is wrong. Carlos begins spewing Bible verses at Callie, but she matches each attempt with a counterpoint and admonishes him for judging her. Callie proves that you can be gay and have faith in addition to eventually finding common ground with a parent after coming out — thanks to Callie's love interest, Arizona (Jessica Capshaw).

Denise on “Master of None”

Most of Master of None is about Dev (Aziz Ansari), but the 2017 episode titled "Thanksgiving" gives us a look into another character: Denise (Lena Waithe). We follow Denise's family throughout the years as they gather for the feastful holiday, chronicling her coming out story as a young girl not out to herself, as a teen admitting it to Dev, and as a woman who tells her mom she is a lesbian. There's a lot at play in this episode — as we see Denise's big coming out moment itself, how her family reacts to the news, and when she brings girlfriends to dinner. The complexity to which her mother, Catherine (Angela Bassett), reaches a place of understanding though she does have some well-meaning difficulties along the way. This complex episode treats coming out in a fresh and all-encompassing way — which is probably why Ansari and Waithe won an Emmy for their writing.

Carmen Carrera on “RuPaul’s Drag Race”

In another instance of a real person coming out, Carmen Carrera announced on the season 3 reunion of RuPaul's Drag Race in 2011 that she was transgender, getting immediate love and support from fellow castmates and host RuPaul alike. Her bravery has since continued to shine and the model is now considered to be one of our biggest trans rights advocates. This proves that being able to be true to yourself — and, sometimes, the rest of America — takes guts but can pay off in the end.

Alex on “Supergirl”

Alex (Chyler Leigh) realizes she is gay after meeting Maggie (Floriana Lima) and, after coming to realize this about herself, she tells her sister, Kara (Melissa Benoist) in the 2016 episode of Supergirl titled "Changing." While the moment is a little rocky at first, Alex and Kara eventually share a really tender moment with each other. Kara, who is Supergirl, is well versed in keeping secrets and confides in her sister that, while she can't relate exactly, there is a familiarity there about keeping yourself hidden from the rest of the world. This beautiful moment between two sisters brings them closer together and strengthened an already solid bond.

Maura on “Transparent”

The entire first season of Transparent, which arrived in 2014, is all about Maura (Jeffrey Tambor) coming to grips with identifying as a woman and telling the rest of the family about being transgender. Ever since that initial shock wave rippled through the family, we have seen them come together, fight, argue, and discover more sides to themselves than they initially knew. The entire family — many of whom are later revealed to be LGBT — are all on their own journey of self-discovery spawned by their Moppa.

Justin on “Ugly Betty”

Justin (Mark Indelicato) nearly had this big life moment usurped by a very supportive family who wanted to throw him a coming out party — but Marc St. James (Michael Urie) stopped them to that the teen could come out on his own terms. That moment came when his mom, Hilda (Ana Ortiz), got married in the 2010 episode of Ugly Betty titled "The Past Presents the Future" and he danced with a boy at the reception, quietly letting the rest of the family get to know the true side of him. Everyone should come out in their own way and, hopefully, they'll be met with as much love as Justin's family showed.

Cover image via Fox | ABC | Amazon


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