With an increasingly conservative Supreme Court, we’re living in a very scary time for the LGBTQ community in the U.S. Just this Monday, Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Samuel Alito railed against 2015 decision Obergefell v. Hodges that led to the legalization of same-sex marriage across the country, arguing that it “enables courts and governments to brand religious adherents who believe that marriage is between one man and one woman as bigots” (I. mean, show me the lie). And later that night, recently eliminated Dancing With The Stars contestant Anne Heche reminded us what a scary place Hollywood was to be openly gay just 20 years ago, recalling the giant hit to her career and personal indignities she suffered when she began publicly dating Ellen DeGeneres in 1997. That’s right — the same year season 4 of Friends was on the air for the first time, Heche was losing multimillion dollar movie deals and being kicked out of her own premiere for bringing a woman as a date. And as we prepare to fight for LGBTQ rights harder than ever, this should be a sobering reminder of the kind of basic respect we’ve been fighting for all along.
After last night’s DWTS elimination, Heche got unexpectedly candid about her three-year romance with talk show host DeGeneres, recalling how she was kicked out of her own premiere for 1997 movie Volcano for bringing DeGeneres as her date — even as her then-girlfriend urged her not to take the risk.
“In 1997, I met Ellen DeGeneres at the Vanity Fair party and that was the night that changed my life forever,”
“My movie premiere for Volcano, I had told them that I was taking Ellen as my date and I was told if I took Ellen I would lose my Fox contract,” Heche revealed. “At that moment, she took my hand and said, ‘Do what they say’ and I said, ‘No thanks.’ I took Ellen to the premiere and I was ushered out before the movie even ended and was told I was not allowed to go to my own after party for fear that they would get pictures of me with a woman.”
Heche says that DeGeneres was worried about her career throughout, knowing the risks associated with being openly gay (or in a gay relationship) in the entertainment industry at the time.
“She was warning me, ‘This is going to happen,'” Heche recalls. “I was in a relationship with Ellen DeGeneres for three-and-a-half years and the stigma attached to that relationship was so bad that I was fired from my multi-million dollar picture deal and I did not work in a studio picture for 10 years.”
It’s not fair for anyone to face blatant discrimination like this on the basis of their sexuality, and Heche is aware that she is a rare voice who has managed to rebuild a platform after suffering her Hollywood exile. Because of her ability to speak for so many whose careers did not survive similar discrimination, the actress now says proudly that she wouldn’t change a thing.
“I was a part of a revolution that created social change, and I could not have done that without falling in love with her,” Heche says of her time with DeGeneres, calling it “a beautiful part of my life and one that I wear with honor.”
The image of Heche being escorted from her own premiere for fear of being photographed with a woman seems mindbogglingly outdated — but it’s only 20 years in the past. The progress we have built is fragile, and has been largely won by LGBTQ people like Heche and DeGeneres putting themselves and their careers on the line to push the needle forward. Let Heche’s recollection inspire you to make sure those costs weren’t in vain.
Before you go, click here to see all the celebrities who have talked about being bisexual, sexually fluid, pansexual, or queer.