An ABC News article from 2012 stated the day is “for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their allies to celebrate coming out.” The “national” is a bit misleading; it started in the US, but is now started in multiple countries.
Remind me again what “coming out” means?
The Trevor Project, a national organization aimed at preventing suicide among LGBTQ+ youth, has defined “coming out” as:
Coming out is when a person decides to reveal an important part of who they are with someone in their life. For many LGBTQ people, this involves sharing their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
Unfortunately, coming out isn’t always easy. After thinking it through you may decide not to come out – and that’s ok too. Many people decide not to for different reasons. Remember, there isn’t one right way to come out, and it’s YOUR choice.
Got it. When is National Coming Out Day?
October 11. The first one was in 1988.
Why that day?
LGBTQ+ activists marched in Washington, D.C., on October 14, 1979, to urge lawmakers to recognize and protect LGBTQ+ individuals. The Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights took place on Oct. 11, 1987. The following year, Richard Eichberg, a psychologist and Jean O’Leary, a gay rights activist, decided there should be a day to raise awareness of the community and its efforts to gain civil rights. Eichberg and O’Leary picked Oct. 11, 1988, to mark the one-year anniversary of the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.
And the day is meant to inspire people to come out?
That was one of the primary goals, at least according to Eichberg. In a New York Times obituary after his death in 1995, Eichberg was quoted as having said:
Most people think they don’t know anyone gay or lesbian, and in fact everybody does. It is imperative that we come out and let people know who we are and disabuse them of their fears and stereotypes.
In the ABC News article from 2012, Candace Gingrich-Jones of the Human Rights Campaign, echoed Eichberg’s sentiments:
It’s a day to be visible… What we know today is people who know someone who is queer are much more likely to understand the issues of inequality and be supportive of the work to gain that equality.
But from what that Trevor Project quote said, I’m guessing not everyone comes out that day?
Correct. In a 2013 article for The Atlantic, writer Preston Mitchum wrote about coming out is a complicated process and that not everyone can do it with the same ease. He said:
Ultimately, coming out is important because it makes the LGBT community more visible, particularly for black LGBT individuals. But focusing so intensely on coming out places the burden on the individual to brave society rather than on society to secure the safety of the individual. In the name of “visibility,” the victims of repeated discrimination are forced to ensure they are seen…
…Policing someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity journey—and its level of openness—will always be troubling, whether coming from homophobes or from the LGBT community itself. There is no correct or incorrect way to be LGBT. We must respect the personal decisions individuals make regarding their sexual orientation, gender identity, and public declarations or lack thereof. And it’s vital to appreciate the ways in which race, class, gender, disability, age, and lack of support can complicate the popular narrative of what it means to “come out.”
What resources are there if I want to learn more?
Here are some links that expand upon all of this, including some additional history, some tips, and some food for thought on why pressuring people to come out is not helpful.
- American Psychological Association: National Coming Out Day
- The Trevor Project: Coming Out
- The Trevor Project: Guide/brochure
- The Guardian: 10 tips on how to come out as LGBT to family and friends
- Salon: Stop saying it’s easy to come out!
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