Betty DeGeneres is an American LGBT rights activist and former speech therapist. She gained fame as the mother of popular TV host Ellen DeGeneres. Betty DeGeneres was born into an ordinary family and had a normal upbringing. She studied speech therapy before getting married. DeGeneres has two children, Ellen and Vance. Ellen changed her outlook toward life and brought her to the forefront of social rights activism. Ellen, who is homosexual, disclosed her sexual orientation to her mother. Although it came as a shock for DeGeneres, she was quick to support her daughter. She became a solid supporter of lesbian rights. DeGeneres is the first non-gay spokesperson for the ‘National Coming Out Project’ of the ‘Human Rights Campaign.’ DeGeneres is actively involved with the group ‘Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.’ She has authored two books, ‘Love, Ellen: A Mother/ Daughter Journey’ and ‘Just a Mom.’ Through these books, she detailed the difficulties that she faced when she came to know about her daughter’s sexual orientation and how she overcame those issues. DeGeneres has appeared in few TV series, too. She appears regularly on her daughter’s show, ‘The Ellen DeGeneres Show.’
Childhood & Early Life
Betty DeGeneres was born Elizabeth Jane Pfeffer, on May 20, 1930, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Her father was of German descent, and her mother was of Irish descent. She had two elder sisters, Helen and Audrey. DeGeneres was born during the time of the ‘Great Depression.’ Although she was not too close to her sisters during their childhood days, they bonded well after becoming adults.
DeGeneres attended the ‘Louisiana State University,’ studying speech. While in college, she appeared in several plays. She worked alongside ‘Academy Award’-winning actor Joanne Woodward.
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DeGeneres worked as a speech therapist in the early days of her career. After her divorce from her first husband, Elliot DeGeneres, she married Roy Gruessendorf. At the age of 50, she joined ‘Louisiana State University’ to complete her master’s degree in speech pathology.
DeGeneres has two children. One of them is famous comedian and TV host Ellen DeGeneres. DeGeneres led a normal life till her daughter, Ellen, disclosed her sexual orientation. In 1997, Ellen came out as homosexual.
DeGeneres had difficulty in coming to terms with her daughter’s identity. As she hailed from a family with a conservative background, DeGeneres needed time to accept her daughter’s truth. However, after accepting the fact, she became a staunch supporter of Ellen. She understood the need for parents of gay kids to stand by their children. Soon, she turned into a social activist.
DeGeneres is an active member of the organization ‘Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.’ The organization is aimed at uniting families who have lesbian, gay, or transgender members, and providing them with different kinds of assistance. DeGeneres is the first individual with straight sexual orientation to become a spokesperson for the ‘National Coming Out Project’ of the ‘Human Rights Campaign.’
In 1999, DeGeneres published her first book, ‘Love, Ellen: A Mother/Daughter Journey.’ The book told the story of how her life was transformed after her daughter revealed her sexual orientation. She explained how hard it was for her to accept the fact that her daughter was not going to get married like other girls. When she finally accepted her daughter, it strengthened the bond between them. The book was a huge success and helped many such parents overcome their homophobia.
In 2000, DeGeneres published her second book, ‘Just a Mom.’ It was a continuation of her first book. In this book, she spoke directly to parents, children, and society at large. She offered suggestions and advices, both to parents and children. She advised children on how to tell their parents about their sexual orientation. DeGeneres also advised parents on ways to overcome their prejudices.
DeGeneres wrote a column titled ‘Ask Betty’ for the website ‘PlanetOut.’ The website is currently not functioning. She was also seen on many TV shows, such as ‘Team Knight Rider’ and ‘Entertainment Tonight.’ DeGeneres appeared in an episode of the TV sitcom ‘Ellen,’ titled ‘The Puppy Episode,’ in which her daughter played the title role. It was the same episode in which Ellen came out as gay. DeGeneres is a regular on her daughter’s TV show, ‘The Ellen DeGeneres Show.’
Family & Personal Life
Betty DeGeneres has been married twice. In 1952, she married Elliot DeGeneres. The couple had two children, Ellen and Vance. Ellen later turned into a renowned TV host, while Vance became a popular actor, comedian, and musician. In 1974, the couple divorced. Following this, she married Roy Gruessendorf.
DeGeneres is a survivor of breast cancer. She is often seen speaking about her battle with cancer in various public appearances. She is currently 89 years old.