The “Saturday Night Live” cast member pointed to DeGeneres’ legacy as an LGBTQ icon before handing her the second-ever Carol Burnett Award at Sunday’s ceremony.
“She risked her entire life and her entire career in order to tell the truth, and she suffered greatly for it,” McKinnon, who is gay, told the crowd. “Attitudes change, but only because brave people like Ellen jump into the fire to make them change.”
“If I hadn’t seen her on TV, I would have thought, ‘I could never be on TV. They don’t let LGBTQ people be on TV,’” she continued. “And more than that, I would have gone on thinking that I was an alien and that I maybe didn’t have a right to be here.”
DeGeneres said she was “so grateful” to be receiving her first Golden Globe.
“There is no greater feeling than when someone tells me that I’ve made their day better with my show, or that I’ve helped them get through a sickness or a hard time in their lives,” she said. “But the real power of television, for me, is not that people watch my show, but that people watch my show and then they’re inspired to do the same thing in their own lives.”
As an actor, DeGeneres received three Golden Globe nominations for her eponymous sitcom, which ran from 1994 to 1998 and was one of the first major TV shows to feature an openly LGBTQ protagonist.
“From her sitcoms, to stand-up, to becoming a household staple on daytime television, she is a pioneer who has captivated audiences for nearly 25 years with her undeniable charm and wit,” Hollywood Foreign Press Association President Lorenzo Soria said in a statement.
The Carol Burnett Award was envisioned as a television equivalent to its film counterpart, the Cecil B. DeMille Award, which will be awarded to Tom Hanks.