It's difficult to think of any public figure who has changed the contemporary conversation about LGBT issues more than Ellen DeGeneres. Her sitcom Ellen really altered the perception of gay people in a large part of America; for many Americans, it was likely the first time anyone they'd "known" had come out and told stories related to the gay experience, such as public affection, first-time intimacy, and same-sex marriage. Even though Ellen only lasted one season beyond the character's coming out, it was landmark event: DeGeneres was the first openly lesbian actor to play a lesbian character on television. She played another lesbian character on The Ellen Show in 2001, which wasn't nearly as successful as her 90s sitcom, but in the interim, Ellen became a cultural icon and representative of the LGBT community. She was vital in the late 1990s visibility of gay people, thanks largely to her highly publicized relationship with Anne Heche. Her coming out paved the way for some of television's most lasting LGBT series, such as Will & Grace, Queer as Folk, The L Word, and others. Since then, Ellen has permeated nearly every avenue of entertainment, from television (her popular daytime talk show has been on the air since 2003 and has picked up 38 Emmys) to film (Finding Nemo and Finding Dory are two of the highest-grossing animated films of all time) to hosting (she was the first openly gay person to host the Academy Awards in 2007) to writing (each of her four books have been New York Times bestsellers) to humanitarianism (she is a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign and served as special envoy for Global AIDS Awareness). Ellen also spoke out against Prop 8 following her marriage to Portia de Rossi in 2008. In so many ways, Ellen has opened up the conversation about being gay in America. Her openness and honesty have done much for the normalization of LGBT people and causes over the past 20 years.