What Ellen DeGeneres’ critics get totally wrong

Originally Published: 08 OCT 19 20:37 ET
Updated: 08 OCT 19 20:42 ET

(CNN) — One of my good friends and one of the kindest human beings I have ever met worked to make me a second-class citizen. Matthew Dowd was President George W. Bush’s chief strategist during the 2004 presidential election, an election cycle that saw the leader of the free world endorse a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, thus weaponizing bigotry to get re-elected.

Watching your dignity and civil rights be diminished into a Sunday morning talking point was humiliating, and when I met Dowd years later, being in the presence of a man who contributed to this humiliation initially filled me with anger. But then I chose not to submit to that anger. And because of that, I gained a friend.

More importantly I kept my power.

Ellen DeGeneres, who is under fire from some for sitting next to and sharing laughs with President Bush during the Dallas Cowboys-Green Bay Packers game last Sunday, knows very well what it is like to be targeted for being LGBTQ. Undoubtedly, she remembers the humiliation and fear of 2004. She also remembers the pain of losing her career, arguably for being gay, after her sitcom, “Ellen,” was cancelled in 1998.

This strikes a particularly strong chord for me because I too came out in 1998. I too remember all that I lost in doing so. And like her, I too have shared laughs with some of the very people who contributed to the vilification of my community many years later. Not because we are sell-outs. Not because we have forgotten. But because anger cannot be the sole fuel propelling us on life’s journey. We also need love, for without it, we are no better than those who fear us.

To live with anger is to live powerless. That’s not to say the oppressed should never be angered by the actions of their oppressor. Only that anger can spark a movement but it should not order its steps. Not if the goal of the movement is peace.

To those who believe DeGeneres’ actions were some sort of betrayal, I ask what significant civil rights movement occurred without support from those on the “other side?” Would women have gained the right to vote without men in Congress supporting the 19th Amendment? Of course not. Tweets can inform, protests garner attention, but changing hearts and minds requires genuine human interaction. Like the kind captured in a photograph in which DeGeneres and Bush dared to sit next to each other and share a laugh.

The two may still be on opposite sides when it comes to LGBTQ issues or any one of the litany of issues Bush decided as President during his eight years in the White House. They may be on the same side in terms of enjoying their status as one-percenters. Who knows? But clearly, they found common ground in treating each other with respect. And for the life of me, I can see no harm in that.

Besides, as former Congressman Barney Frank likes to say, “if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” Where some saw a sell-out in Ellen DeGeneres last Sunday, I saw a woman who once lost everything as an appetizer and who fought and clawed her way back to owning the restaurant.

So yes, be angry for what Bush, Dowd — who has since apologized — and others did 15 years ago. Be angry for what the Trump administration is doing now. But do not allow that anger to be so consuming that you hand your joy over to people who wish to bathe in your tears. They don’t deserve to have that much power.

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