If you’ve been on social media within the past few days, you have probably seen that now infamous photo of Ellen DeGeneres sitting with former U.S. President George W. Bush at a Dallas Cowboys vs. Green Bay Packers football game. While many are applauding Ellen for demonstrating friendly bipartisanship, personally I feel like she is showing how privileged and out of touch she is with U.S. politics and the LGBTQ+ community. I don’t need to divulge into why George Bush is not a champion for LGBTQ+ rights (or human rights in general), but it’s important to criticize this “friendship” and Ellen’s response to the controversy.
Ellen has been an extremely important public figure for LGBTQ+ Americans and I do not mean to dismiss all of the good that she’s done for our community, but as a gay man I am disappointed in her. Ellen appears to be incredibly proud “friendship” with George Bush and extremely dismissive towards those who criticize her. Many have described this relationship as “class solidarity”. Ellen is able to ignore George Bush’s incredibly poor record for LGBTQ+ Americans because her fame and richness has allowed her to be exempt from many forms of institutionalized homophobia.
Since the legalization of same-sex marriage nationwide, gay and lesbian Americans have been experiencing a certain depoliticization of our identifies. For so long our identities were tied to political discourse and rejection of the Republican Party, but since it is no longer considered radical or controversial to support gay marriage, we’re experiencing what can be described as a form of assimilation. We may often be merely tolerated for being gay, but not embraced for everything that being gay comes with. This includes political activism, because being LGBTQ+ is inherently “radical”. George Bush’s passive tolerance of LGBTQ+ Americans and Ellen’s passive tolerance for Bush’s heinous presidency is not indicative of a contemporary society that is more accepting of LGBTQ+ Americans, but rather one that is silencing us and forcing us to assimilate to the heterosexual norm.
Like all members of marginalized communities, LGBTQ+ people are often expected to demonstrate civility and “niceness” towards their oppressors. We’re told through coded homophobia to not be “too much”, “too aggressive”, “too loud”, “too flamboyant” in order to make the oppressor comfortable. This conveys the message that we are deserving of passive tolerance and human dignity if we conform to the standard of the oppressor as much as we possibly can. Ellen may be an out, married, butch lesbian, but her whiteness, richness, and overall noncontroversial public image have allowed to have a social relationship with George Bush.