23/11/2016 15:15 SAST | Updated 23/11/2016 17:50 SAST

Ellen Degeneres Has A Medal of Freedom -- But She's A Problem

She has drawn public criticism in the past for her tone-deaf approach to race.

Alex Wong/Getty Images
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest honor for civilians in the United States of America.

Comedian and talk show host Ellen Degeneres was amongst a group of 20 Americans to receive the highest civilian honour on Tuesday. The Medal of Freedom was awarded to some of the United States' best known performers, scientist and athletes in a ceremony at the White House.

Amongst those honoured were Tom Hanks, Diana Ross and Michael Jordan. Degeneres received recognition for her role in promoting LGBTI rights, with President Obama acknowledging how difficult it was, given her public position, for her to come out as gay almost 20 years ago.

"It's easy to forget now just how much courage was required for Ellen to come out on the most public of stages 20 years ago... What an incredible burden that was to bear -- to risk your career like that -- people don't do that very often. And then, to have the hopes of millions on your shoulders," Obama told reporters.

Both Obama and Degeneres tried to hold back tears as she was awarded her medal.

Just before the ceremony, Degeneres posted a photo to her Instagram account after being denied entry to the White House for forgetting her ID.

They haven't let me in to the White House yet because I forgot my ID. #NotJoking #PresidentialMedalOfFreedom

A photo posted by Ellen (@theellenshow) on

But it was resolved and, after receiving her medal, Degeneres posted a selfie with wife Portia de Rossi - joking that her medal would hopefully serve as her new ID so that she could get home.

But while Degeneres has been a frontrunner in bringing conversations about LGBTI rights into the mainstream, she has also drawn public criticism in the past for her tone-deaf approach to race.

Degeneres drew fire after she posted a tweet featuring a photoshopped image of herself riding on the back of Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt during the 2016 Olympics, with the caption: "This is how I'm running errands from now on". Degeneres apologised for the tweet following a backlash on Twitter.

Her involvement in an ad campaign for GapKids, which featured four girls from Le Petit Cirque dance group also drew criticism. Critics said that the only black girl in the group was used as a prop for the three white girls who posed with her.

In October 2015 Degeneres did a skit of rapper Nicki Minaj's childhood on her show. The tasteless skit, which featured a family with exaggerated buttocks, was criticised for its racism and called out for being damaging to black women.

Apparently she still has some swimming to do.